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About Democracy at War

Democracy at War: Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War is a fully searchable digitized collection of more than 140,000 contemporary newspaper clippings that report on the events of the Second World War as that great conflict unfolded. ( see About the Archival Materials )

To meet the needs of as wide an audience as possible, the Canadian War Museum has created 57 short historical articles on some of the key subjects covered in the digitized archive.

At the end of each article is a selection of links to actual newspaper clippings on the subject in the archive. These sample clippings enable readers to see how the "eyewitness" and "at the moment" accounts in the clippings add colour and depth to the modern historical record. At the same time, readers can see how the accounts in the clippings may lack the analysis and context that becomes possible over time as governments release further information and individuals publish their private reflections and experiences.

The Web Site Project: Background

The Hamilton Spectator archive that the Department of National Defence transferred to the Canadian War Museum in 1999 consists of over 218 20-centimetre archival boxes. These contain over 12,405 subject files. Within each file, the clippings on that subject are arranged in chronological order.

The archive had been a valuable tool for Government of Canada historians, and for researchers who could come to Ottawa, for more than 50 years. Its great value lay in the fact that most newspapers from the Second World War period do not have a subject index, and until recently the newspapers themselves were available only on microfilm. The alternative to using this archive, therefore, was to do extensive preliminary research into the range of dates on which the subject might have been covered and then spend a great deal of time reading through whole issues of newspapers on microfilm for those dates, seeking articles on the subject. The microfilm versions of most newspapers are available only in major research libraries that are located largely in major cities, and microfilm is not a pleasant medium with which to work. While historical issues of some major Canadian newspapers have been digitized in recent years, they are often accessible only to subscribers, or through research libraries or academic institutions.

In 2008, seven years after the launch of Democracy at War, the Museum received a collection of the Montréal daily newspaper Le Devoir. 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.

The Web Site Project: Challenges

The Canadian War Museum, as part of its core mandate, wished to make the Hamilton Spectator archive as widely available as possible. But this was difficult to achieve. The sheer volume of material requires a large public access library space, and the archive must be supported by expert staff in order to preserve the collection and make it usable. The subject headings, generated as events unfolded and arranged according to the pressing needs of working journalists, are in many cases useless to a modern reader. Terminology has changed, and many very specific subjects, into which the clippings are organized, have since 1945 been grouped under larger headings. All these difficulties aside, the newsprint itself, and the thin mounting pages to which the clippings were glued, have begun to deteriorate physically. The issues of Le Devoir have likewise begun to deteriorate. The bindings of some of the books that held them are also in poor condition, so opening the books and scanning selected articles required extra care.

The Web Site Project: Opportunities

Presentation of the archive in an accessible format online was the answer to these challenges, and would meet all aspects of the Canadian War Museum’s mandate to “educate, preserve, remember.” The web project became possible in 2001 with a grant from the Canadian Digital Cultural Content Initiative of the Canadian Memory Fund, a programme of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

This funding provided for the augmentation of the resources of the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of History, of which the War Museum forms a part, to create the team with the wide range of expertise needed to realize the project: librarians, archivists, historians, web-designers, data systems managers, and experts in state-of-the art digitization.

Additional Copyright Information

Acknowledgements for newspaper articles included in the Democracy at War : Canadian Newspapers and the Second World War website:

  • © Canadian Press. Reproduced with the permission of the Canadian Press.
  • © Canadian Business. Reproduced with the permission of Canadian Business.
  • © The Financial Post. reproduced with the permission of The National Post.
  • © The Globe and Mail. reproduced with the permission of The Globe and Mail.
  • © The Hamilton Spectator. Reproduced with the permission of The Hamilton Spectator.
  • © The New York Times. Reproduced with the permission of The New York Times.
  • © The Ottawa Citizen. Reproduced with the permission The Ottawa Citizen.
  • © The Toronto Star. Reproduced with the permission of The Toronto Star.
  • © The Toronto Telegram. Reproduced with the permission of York University, Archives Division.
  • © The Vancouver Sun. Reproduced courtesy of The Vancouver Sun.
  • © The Winnipeg Tribune. Reproduced with the permission of Manitoba University, Archives and Special Collections.
  • © The Christian Science Monitor. Reproduced with the permission of The Christian Science Monitor.
  • © Le Devoir. Reproduced with the permission of Le Devoir.

    The Canadian Museum of History respects the provision of the Canadian Copyright Act. Every reasonable effort has been made to locate copyright owners. If you identify yourself as the copyright owner of material on this website and object to its continued availability online, please contact

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