August 6th and 9th 1945 are two of the most tragic days in the 20th century. Two days during which human kind surpassed itself at showing how merciless it can be. In mere instants, the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear bombs. Dropped from the sky, in a vicious silence and in the most awful surprise, they detonated high above the houses and blew away the men, women, children and elders. They killed sick people, school kids, many mothers and their new borns.
As Canadians, we like to remind ourselves (or anyone listening) that those bombs were American. Totally Made in USA, they were dropped by them and only them. All in all, Canada was just a small country trying to get by in the aftermath of the Second World War and a simple witness of, according to some, this necessary evil. To this noble thought, I would like to say… WRONG! Canada was in it big time! Maybe we didn’t build it (though we would need to define ‘build’) or dropped it, but we did get our hands dirty… and quite a bit too.
During the Second World War, the Brits were hoping to use nuclear energy to defeat the Nazis. The possibility of a successful German invasion was very real and they preferred moving their research (and newly discovered secrets) to Canada, away from the front lines. As Montréal welcomed the British scientists, the Canadian government got involved in the Manhattan Project, the team responsible for building a nuclear weapon. Our main role consisted of extracting uranium, refining it and delivering it to the Americans.
I would like to take this opportunity to point out that while plotting to kill Japanese people, we did manage to squeeze in a more personal/national agenda of harming our first nations once more. You see, as first nations dug out uranium, they were not given appropriate tools to handle such a dangerous element. You are right! After kidnapping their children to fill up the residential schools, we sent their fathers to get radiated. Don’t worry though; the white folks of Port Hope, east of Toronto, where the uranium was refined, were properly equipped.
Once the war was won, Canada kept on extracting uranium for military purposes and sold it to its allies until 1965. In 1970, our government signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. This deal does not eliminate nuclear weapons, but tries to stop countries to acquire them, therefore limiting the nuclear powers to the ones owing them prior to the treaty.
While we are at it, I would like to mention that about 160 people (thought only one was ever officially recognised) survived both nuclear attacks. Tsutomu Yamaguchi was on a business trip for Mitsubishi in Hiroshima when the first bomb was dropped. Having survived, he returned home in… Nagasaki. The poor fellow pulled through his injuries and lived up to the respectable age of 93.