Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Jonathan F. Vance


From Lion to Leaf is a study of the evacuation of British children to Canada in the Second World War. While European refugee children were excluded purposely from Canada, Canadians anxiously called for Britain to send her children as a display of philanthropic, patriotic, imperial, and wartime sentiment. Yet overseas evacuation is often overshadowed, in both the historiography and social memory of the war, by Britain’s domestic evacuation. From Lion to Leaf contributes to the study of evacuation, the British home front, wartime Canada, Canadian childcare and immigration policy, and the changing British Empire. Reflecting the transnationalism of the movement, this study marries governmental sources, newspapers, and personal collections, from both Britain and Canada. To ensure that the child’s perspective of evacuation is revealed, this study utilises extensive collections of evacuees’ wartime letters. Correspondence between British families and Canadian foster families provides a unique window into the familial experience of evacuation. The author’s creation of an evacuee database underpins the study, providing innovative statistics. This study explores governmental negotiations and childcare plans for evacuation, Canadians’ motivations in becoming foster parents, the evacuees’ experiences in Canada, and the lasting implication of evacuation on evacuees’ later lives. This was not a migration whereby Britain asserted its imperial standing and passed unwanted children onto Canada. Rather Canada imposed a special “War Guest” identity onto evacuees. This status in turn shaped evacuees’ experiences within both the public and private spaces. Although separated from family, they gained a cultural education through exposure to Canadian physical, social, and cultural landscapes. Their time spent in Canada became a fundamental part of their childhood, leading some to struggle to reintegrate into British life. Ultimately, Canadian evacuation differed drastically in organisation and facilitation from domestic evacuation. While trauma and abuse form the legacy of domestic evacuation, From Lion to Leaf shows that Canada attempted to provide the best care for its “War Guests”.