Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion Monument, Toronto
Repository: Adrian Shubert Personal Collection, Toronto, Canada
Creator: Association of Friends and Veterans of the Mackenzie Papineau Battalion
Contributor: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
Fond or Collection
Repository and Location
Adrian Shubert Personal Collection, Toronto, Canada
Date Created: 1995
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Toronto, Canada
This monument to the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, erected on the grounds of the Ontario provincial legislature in Toronto in 1995, was the first to commemorate Canadian involvement in International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War. Approximately 1500 Canadians volunteered to fight for the Republican cause, many out of ideological motives and class convictions underpinned by the experience of the Great Depression. They were often forced to make the long and arduous journey to Spain independently, since in 1937 the Canadian government had forbidden the involvement of its citizens in the Spanish Civil War through the passing of the Foreign Enlistment Act. Initially a number volunteered with the American Abraham Lincoln Brigade, but the substantial number of Canadian volunteers would ultimately lead to the formation of a separate battalion, named after two leaders of the unsuccessful Canadian rebellions against the British Crown in 1837-38.
The battalion, known for short as the MapPap, fought in the attack on Fuentes de Ebro, in October 1937, where they suffered heavy casualties. In 1938, they were involved in series of significant battles, including the defence of Teruel, the subsequent Republican retreat, and the Battle of the Ebro. They departed Spain with the other International brigadistas in 1938. Only half of the Canadian volunteers would survive the War, returning to a somewhat hostile Canadian government suspicious of their left-wing and potential Communist leanings. Their contribution to the Spanish Civil War, and in many cases later to the Second World War, would begin to be acknowledged in such books as Victor Hoar’s The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion (1969) and William C. Beeching’s Canadian Volunteers in Spain, 1936-39 (1989).
Several monuments now exist to remember the “Mac-Paps”, including this one in Toronto. Consisting of a plaque on a boulder donated by the town of Gandesa, south-west of Tarragona, a major battlefield of the war, it remembers these men who “fought courageously for their ideals, suffering heavy losses”. Even so, the memory of the Mac Paps remains contested. In 2012 two of Canada’s largest circulation newspapers ran opinion pieces that heatedly debated whether the government should officially recognize Canadian combatants in Spain as war veterans.
The fate of the most famous Canadian participant in the Spanish Civil War, Dr. Norman Bethune, has been very different. A Communist but not a member of the International Brigades, Bethune established an innovative blood transfusion service. After the Republican government asked the notoriously irascible Bethune to leave Spain, he returned to Canada and then, in January 1938, he went to China to serve with Mao Tse Dung’s army. He died of an infection in October 1939 after cutting his finger during surgery. Bethune became a national hero in China after Mao published an essay about him that became required reading in the country’s schools. In Canada, he was largely forgotten until the country established diplomatic relations with China in 1970. Soon afterwards, he was declared a Person of National Historic Significance and in 1973 the national government purchased the house in which he was born. It was opened to the public as a National Historic Site in 1976.