World War 2 Training in Canada: Troops on Skis

January 31, 2019 | lfeesey

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A Brief History

Equipped with cross country skis, troops fighting for Finland pushed back and defeated Soviet forces in the Winter War (though Finland lost some of its territory). The war started on November 30, 1939 when the Soviets invaded Finland — it ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty. Allied Forces took note of the success the Finnish had on skis. 

In Canada, military ski instructors received training at the Dominion Experimental Farm in Ottawa before they fanned out across Canada to instruct troops and airmen in winter warfare techniques. Valcartier base in Quebec hosted the first Canadian French language ski instructor school "en plein air" (outside). In addition to the Canadian Army, the Women's Transport Service of the Canadian Red Cross also practiced ski traversal in Toronto.

A Toronto Star article from 1943 reports about the military trainees: "There are tumbles once in a while as the officers get their 'ski legs.' Object of the course is to make them 'passable' skiers, but not necessarily experts at the game."

After the war ended, large quantities of surplus army ski equipment came on the market at low prices. This offered post-war families everything they needed — large heavy skis, metal-framed khaki rucksacks and bulky canvas parkas — to enjoy some recreation in the snow. There were no ski lifts to take up the hill or cozy ski chalets to escape the cold, yet skiing gained popularity. Canadians skied cross country to the hills, climbed up, then slid directly down.


These photos of Canadians in training are are available on Toronto Public Library's website, Digital Archive Ontario. They have been digitized from our Toronto Star Photograph Archive.

Dominion Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Ontario


Petawawa camp, Petawawa, Ontario

Men in ski gear standing in a line posing for photo
Members of the 47th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery (1941). Photo from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


Camp Borden, Borden, Ontario

A line of men on skis are pulled by a rope hooked to a small tank
Ski troops being pulled by a small tank, or "Bug" (1941). Photo from the Toronto Star Photograph Archive.


Valcartier camp, Saint-Gabriel-de-Valcartier, Quebec


Toronto, Ontario (Women's Transport Service of the Canadian Red Cross)



See more photos of Canadians training on skis on Digital Archive Ontario.