Canada honours national historic significance of Second World War code breakers

Parks Canada

August 6, 2022 Ottawa, Ontario Parks Canada Agency

Today, the Honourable Mona Fortier, President of the Treasury Board and Member of Parliament for Ottawa-Vanier, commemorated the national historic significance of Canada’s first cryptographic bureau, the Examination Unit (XU) during a special ceremony to unveil a plaque at Laurier House National Historic Site. The announcement was made on behalf of the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada.

Canadian code breakers played an important role in gathering intelligence for the Allied war efforts during the Second World War. The XU began operation in 1941 and helped break codes and ciphers used in secret military and diplomatic communications. The founding of the XU represented a step by the Canadian government to gain more independence and become a valued intelligence partner.

For most of the Second World War, the XU was based in the mansion that used to sit at 345 Laurier Ave East. This property neighboured Laurier House National Historic Site, the residence of Canada’s wartime Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie-King. Having the code breakers working right next door meant that the Prime Minister was close to important intelligence that helped guide Canada through some of its most defining moments of the 20th century.

The bureau’s contributions to Allied efforts at breaking the codes and ciphers used in secret military and diplomatic communications, and its decryption of intercepted Vichy, Free French, German, Japanese, and Spanish-language messages, provided Canada with an independent source of foreign intelligence, and the means of building important intelligence partnerships with the United States, Britain, and the Commonwealth, which continued after the war.

Women made up roughly 40 percent of the cryptographic bureau’s total known workforce, reflecting changes that were occurring in Canadian workplaces during the war.

The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant persons, places, and events that shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians and youth connect with their past. The designation process under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration is largely driven by public nominations. To date, more than 2,200 designations have been made nationwide.

National historic designations illustrate the defining moments in the story of Canada. Together, they tell the stories of who we are and connect us to our past, enriching our understanding of ourselves, each other, and our country. Heritage places provide a wide range of cultural, social, economic, and environmental benefits to their communities.

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