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Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada/PA-002777.

Georges Vanier


“I do not think any Ambassador enjoyed such respect and affection.”

Sir Oliver Harvey
British Ambassador to France (1948-1954)


Georges Vanier opened Canadian eyes to the plight of refugees during and after the Second World War. As Ambassador to France, Vanier urged the Canadian government to open its doors to European refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. Prime Minister Mackenzie King, however, remained cautious. In April 1945, Vanier visited the liberated concentration camp at Buchenwald to investigate the death of Canadian servicemen at the camp. His report to Ottawa included graphic descriptions of the camp’s gas chambers, crematoriums, and mass graves. Vanier was so moved that he read a version of this report in a national radio broadcast and reflected on Canada’s indifference to Jewish refugees in the years preceding the outbreak of war. Public opinion shifted, international pressure mounted, and in 1947 the Canadian government sponsored the arrival of nearly 180,000 displaced Europeans. Vanier’s reports from Paris outlined the scale and urgency of the humanitarian crisis in Europe and guided the Canadian response.

Office of the High Commissioner for Canada in London. Seated left to right: Col. Georges Vanier and Vincent Massey. Standing left to right: Lester B. Pearson and Ross McLean. Lester B. Pearson fonds, Library and Archives Canada/PA-117598.

Vanier began his diplomatic career as a senior officer in the Canadian Army. From 1928 to 1931, he served as military attaché with Canadian delegations to disarmament conferences in London and Geneva. Vanier was named Ambassador to France in 1938, where he urged Cabinet to open its doors to refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Evacuated to London in 1940, Vanier established formal diplomatic relations with many of the European governments in exile.

Born in Montreal in 1888, Vanier studied law at Laval University. During the First World War, he served as an officer in the 22nd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was decorated for bravery. Following his diplomatic career, Vanier became the first French Canadian Governor General of Canada in 1959.

Further reading:

Coady, Mary Frances. Georges and Pauline Vanier: Portrait of a Couple. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011.

Speaight, Robert. Vanier, Soldier, Diplomat and Governor General: A Biography. London: Collins,1970

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