Between 1944 and 1947, 44,000 women came to Canada, alone or with their children, as wives of Canadian service personnel. During and after the Second World War, some 4,000 women left Canada as wives of foreign military personnel who had trained in Canada during the war.
Today, close to one million Canadians are the descendants of war brides.
Bev Tosh, a Calgary-based contemporary artist, has interpreted many of these personal stories in a moving exhibition titled ‘War Brides: One-Way Passage’ opening at the Red Deer Museum + Art Gallery on May 10.
It all began in 2001. Tosh painted a monumental portrait of her own mother Dorothy, who emigrated as a young Canadian war bride to join her husband in New Zealand. The painting was a direct catalyst for her expanding interest and ongoing research on war brides.
The exhibition is based on hundreds of personal interviews, photographs, letters, memorabilia and period artifacts that represent the leap of faith taken by the thousands of women who built lives far from their homes.
A series of 68 portraits of individual women based on original photographs of each young woman on her wedding day stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’, leaning together in mutual support. The paintings rest on blocks of wood resembling railroad ties with the names of the women’s Canadian destinations.
Two installations are also featured. One titled ‘White Lace and Promises’ is a beautiful and ephemeral bridal veil sculpture made up of vintage 1940s handkerchiefs. Each is embroidered with the name of the ‘bride ship’, a term used for the troop ships that carried the women and children.
Tosh continues to gather memories and material from war brides, incorporating them into future works of art.
The community is invited to a ‘Tea & Talk’ scheduled on Mother’s Day, May 10th at 2 p.m. The artist will attend and lead a tour of the exhibition at this opening reception. Two other guided tours are scheduled on May 15th and June 25th, both starting at 1:15 p.m.