Canada and the Quebec Conferences: What Remains (1943-1944)
The Quebec Conferences were two events on a long list of strategic meetings organized by the Allies during the Second World War. They had an important impact on both military operations and on the shape of the post-war world. The first conference was held from August 10 to 24, 1943 and the second from September 11 to 16, 1944.
A major decision was made at each conference. In 1943, it was decided that Normandy was the next theatre of operations in occupied Western Europe. In 1944, the Anglo-American leaders coordinated their post-war plans, particularly with respect to how to occupy Germany.
One of the issues that arose from the conferences was the absence of Canada in the decision-making process. That is, the United States and the United Kingdom oversaw the direction of the war efforts on the western front.
As British Prime Minister, and leader of the British Empire, Winston Churchill claimed that it was his responsibility to represent Canada and keep it informed of events. However, Churchill conceded that Canada could be given the right to participate in the plenary (preparatory) sessions only.
U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt vetoed Churchill on this issue, however. Why? Because he claimed that if Canada was allowed to participate in the meetings, other emerging nations involved in the war would also want a seat and a say in the decisions.
The situation was resolved with Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King accepting the role of host, and being photographed with the world’s big leaders, and the sessions ran smoothly.
Although Canada played only a token role in the Quebec Conferences, its contribution to the war effort was far from minimal. The problem was that it was difficult to manage a coalition of states with differing levels of power. Mackenzie King thought that it was more useful for him to act as liaison between Churchill and Roosevelt, rather than to play an insignificant role in the strategic planning.
Today, the tangible traces of the Quebec Conferences are few and far between in Quebec’s memorial landscape. A few plaques were erected at the Citadel in Quebec to highlight the events. Audiovisual archives exist as well. Tourists visiting Québec City will note the statues of the conferences’ main players at the corner of Saint-Louis and Côte de la Citadelle Streets.
From a historiographical point of view, the subject could be further expanded upon. Historian Maurice Matloff published a 500-plus page study on the Allies’ strategic planning for 1943 and 1944. Focusing primarily on the military aspect, this study devotes approximately 60 pages to the Quebec Conferences. Despite the high quality of this publication, however, it was published at the end of the 1950s and an update would be welcome.
Thus is a summary of the Quebec Conferences. They were important events where crucial decisions were made; decisions that had a critical impact on the turn of events.