World War II Posters: 5 Things They Told Canadians To Do

November 8, 2019 | Ann

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Below are posters — also known as "broadsides" — from Canada during the Second World War. They're all from Toronto Public Library's vaults (well, shelves, not actual vaults) and available on Digital Archive Ontario

Made by different government agencies, this batch of World War II posters generally promote one of five key messages.

Before we take a closer look, here's a quick overview on how wartime posters evolved over time in Canada:

Early Canadian Second World War propaganda, produced largely under the auspices of the Bureau of Public Information, was informative, word- rather than image-driven, and often relied on humour to relay its messages. Later, wartime demands led to a change of tactics. More aggressive, design-driven, and often sombre propaganda campaigns focused on building unity, harnessing collective energy, and demonstrating the evils of fascism. They also celebrated Canadian achievements in combat, and inspired people with the promise of a better postwar world. (Canadian War Museum)

(Library and Archives Canada has a full history of different types of posters in Canada.)


1. Join the war effort

This poster demanded that Canadians take on whatever role they could, whether it be military and civilian service. The bottom text reads, "Somewhere Canada needs you on the war front."


2. Watch what you say


Before social media, calling on the phone and meeting at restaurants, bars, theatres, church and shops were important ways to keep informed. Posters like the two above warned Canadians to watch what they said. Spies could be listening to sensitive information like the location and plans of Allied forces. This is summed up in the saying, "loose lips sinks ships" which appeared (along with many variations) in other posters.


3. Buy war bonds

War Savings Certificates  — "war bonds" or "Victory Bonds" or "Victory Loans" — provided crucial financial support to the war effort during World War I and World War II. They were loans Canadians made to the government that could be redeemed with interest after a certain number of years. Over time, this evolved into a fund to support Canada's overall economy, as I discuss in the blog, NoVember is for Victory. These bonds are now valued as keepsakes.


This poster suggests that war bonds would help you save money for the future while helping you serve your country in the present. An incentive in the form of 20% interest (e.g., buy a $100 bond for $80) is advertised along the bottom.


War Saving Stamps are advertised here as well as in the previous poster (look closely in the bottom-right corner). These were geared towards children who could paste four dollars worth of stamps onto a form and mail it to the government. The reward: a five dollar War Savings Certificate. "V" is, you guessed it, for victory or Victory Bonds.


This poster evokes fear. The fear of defeat and the fear losing loved ones. Menacing hands with a swastika and a rising sun symbol can only be stopped by supporting the war effort — in this case, by buying Victory Bonds.



Set against a red-soaked sky at dawn, this 1943 poster asks Canadians for more financial support. Here, "VICTORY," a loaded term at the time, is echoed by a familiar call to action at the bottom of the poster: "BUY VICTORY BONDS."


4. Be productive

As Canada began war preparations, industries relied on workers — specifically, healthy workers. That's why this poster lists "6 Food Rules" for proper nutrition, framed by illustrations of workers and a factory. This poster appeared a few years before the 1942 Canada's Official Food Rules, which led to what is now Canada's Food Guide.


This poster from 1940 connects workers to the product of their labour. The powerful visuals depict a larger-than-life worker giving life to a large fleet of aircraft. The poster was donated by Aluminum Company Canada, Limited and distributed by the Directory of Aircraft Production.


Like the very first poster we looked at, this poster blurs the line between serving in battle and serving on the home front: "Action stations everyone." The active smokestacks are "big guns" reminiscent of barrels of a tank or rifle.


This poster implores Canadians to support the manufacturing of naval vessels. It makes a clear connection between production and possible victory at sea.


This late-war poster wants Canadians to continue to be productive as peacetime nears. It reads:

This is our strength. Labour and management are pooling their strength to give us the means for victory in war -- and progress in peace.


5. Don't be wasteful

Spending on the war took precedence over personal purchases. Imported purchases from other countries could reduce transportation needed for soldiers to fight overseas as well as risk illegal smuggling. Learn more about the history of consumerism in Canada.


Coal was an important resource during the early 20th century and in high demand for Canada's war efforts. This poster encouraged Canadians to reduce their energy consumption. It's interesting to think how similar messages today are used to combat the foe of global warming. 



The National Salvage Committee distributed these two posters. Both list valuable scraps that could be used to help boost wartime production. Indeed, the World Wars forced people to become more frugal. This included reusing and recycling items. An article from Journal of Advertising gives a detailed analysis of frugal practices during the war — at least in America: "World War II Poster Campaigns: Preaching Frugality to American Consumers" (2005).


Explore our First World War (WWI) posters

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