Canada's Road to the Pacific War
312 pages, 6 x 9
25 b&w photos, 1 map
Release Date:01 Jul 2012
Release Date:20 Sep 2011
Release Date:12 Sep 2011

Canada's Road to the Pacific War

Intelligence, Strategy, and the Far East Crisis

UBC Press

In December 1941, Japan attacked multiple targets in the Far East and the Pacific, including Hong Kong, where Canadian battalions were stationed. The disaster suggested that the Allies were totally unprepared for war with Japan. This book dispels that assumption by offering the first in-depth account of Canadian intelligence gathering and strategic planning leading up to the crisis.

Timothy Wilford reminds us that Canada was both a Pacific and an Atlantic power, and the first nation to declare war on Japan. Canadian intelligence officers and strategists monitored Japan’s movements and worked closely with their US and Allied counterparts to develop a picture of Japan’s intentions and a strategic plan to meet challenges in the Pacific. Although Canada wanted to avoid conflict with Japan until US participation was assured, policy makers fully anticipated action in the Pacific and made preparations for national and imperial defence, which included the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Canada’s Road to the Pacific War sheds new light on Canadian decision making, Commonwealth strategic planning, and the emerging Anglo-American special relationship during a crisis that led to war in the Pacific, as well as to the creation of the Grand Alliance.

This book will be of interest to students of Canadian military and intelligence history, and to those seeking a deeper understanding of Allied activities in the Pacific during the Second World War.


  • 2012, Shortlisted - John W. Dafoe Book Prize, J. W. Dafoe Foundation
... Canada's Road to the Pacific War is a valuable contribution to the existing historiography. Wilford demonstrates clearly and effectively that Canada was a small but important link in the creation of the anti-Axis alliance prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor. With this examination of Canada's role in the Pacific, students of the Second World War and general readers alike can both form a better understanding of how the Allied nations cooperated to stem the tide of fascist aggression in 1941. David Macri, Journal of Military History
The speed with which the Dominion declared war, Timothy Wilford shows in this meticulously researched book, had more to do with Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s political calculus that to demonstrate Canadian sovereignty it was better to act before the rest of the British Commonwealth and the United States, than it did with Canadian pre-war preparedness. Yet Wilford has uncovered many traces of Canada’s (surprising) willingness to risk war to roll back Japanese advances in China. Nathan M. Greenfield, Times Literary Supplement
Canada’s Road to the Pacific War raises awareness of the motivations behind military planning and political decision-making during the final months before Canada’s war with Japan. Wilford presents his research with methodical organization, effective transitions and summaries, and rich documentation, to provide an insightful explanation of Canada’s evolving wartime relationship with Britain and the United States. He shows the extent to which racism coloured the judgment of military and government decision-makers, both in underestimating Japanese military capabilities and in overestimating the threat posed by Japanese-Canadians living in coastal British Columbia. Above all, Wilford gives us an intelligence-based understanding of the Mackenzie King government’s decisions to prepare for the internment of Japanese-Canadians, to support the trade embargo against Japan, to send Canadian soldiers to the ill-fated defence of Hong Kong, and to be the first Allied nation to declare war against Japan. James Wood, BC Studies, No. 177, Spring 2013
This workmanlike book illuminates the information received in Ottawa about the deteriorating situation in the Pacific between 1939 and 1941 ...The documents discussed also show how the pressures of wartime cooperation were transforming not only the relationships between Canada and the United States but also those between Washington and London. Jan Drent, Northern Mariner, 23.1
Canada’s Road to the Pacific War provides a much better understanding of Canada’s policy with regards to Japan in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, and of its relationship with key allies. Well-researched, especially in terms of primary source material, this is an important and original book. Steve Hewitt, author of Snitch!: A History of the Modern Intelligence Informer
Although the complete story of Allied intelligence in the years leading up to the Pacific War cannot be told until the last of the classified British files are opened, Wilford’s book comes as close to presenting the entire picture, and certainly the full Canadian perspective, as possible. Impressively researched and very well written, it will be essential reading for those interested in Allied intelligence and the possible foreknowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack. William Johnston, author of A War of Patrols: Canadian Army Operations in Korea
Timothy Wilford received a doctorate in history from the University of Ottawa and specializes in twentieth-century military history.


1 Prelude to War: Canada and the Pacific Powers, 1922-40

2 The Allied Web: Intelligence Networks in Canada before the Pacific War

3 Developing a Far East Strategy, December 1940 to July 1941

4 Avoiding confrontation with Japan: Diplomacy, Deterrence, and Hong Kong

5 Reassessing the Far East Crisis after the Asset Freeze, August to October 1941

6 Guarding the Coast: Canadian Defence Strategy for the North Pacific

7 Countdown to War: Negotiation and Mobilization, November 1941

8 The Coming of the Pacific War, December 1941

Conclusion: Canada's Response to the Pacific Challenge

Glossary of Names

Chronology of Events, 1922-42




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