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War Bride Display Captures Their Story

War Brides: One-Way Passage is now showing at the Portage &District Arts Centre. Artist Beverley Tosh of Calgary has created an incredible array of installations honouring 1940s war brides.

Three walls of the gallery are lined with 80 beautiful portraits of these courageous women, painted on planks of rough plywood. Yes, plywood, and they are astounding.

Every piece of wood was carefully selected in order to properly depict the bride’s likeness from her wedding day photograph. The paintings rest on blocks of wood, resembling railroad ties which carried the “bride trains” across Canada.


Selected excerpts of their stories are interspersed. The portraits of two Manitoba war brides, Winnie Field of Brandon and Kay Wagner of Souris, have recently been added to this remarkable display.

Other symbolic installations accompany the portraits.

White Lace and Promises is a “veil” made of vintage 1940s handkerchiefs.

Embroidered with names of

the “bride ships” which carried the 44,000 war brides and their 21,000 children across the Atlantic between 1944 and 1947, the handkerchiefs also signify waving farewell.

A full-size silk Second World War parachute, representing the war bride’s journey from one home to another, hangs gracefully in another corner, its draping reminiscent of a wedding dress.

Fifty-two wartime bridal photographs are projected onto the fabric. Entitled Rough Ground, it suggests the challenges war brides faced upon arrival to their new homes. The Wall of War Brides has over 500 reproductions of old photos and letters held in place with corsage and dressmaker pins.


Tiny Tear Bottles, photographs steeped in sea water, speak of the ocean voyages and tears shed. A video provides insight into the history and process behind this incredible project.

Many who see the exhibit feel drawn to visit more than once.

War Brides: One-Way Passage has multi-generational appeal. War brides reminisce; sometimes overcome with emotion. They are taken back to a time of great unknowns and great change.

For family and friends viewing this exhibit with them, it provides opportunity to hear accounts of the war bride’s journey once again, or perhaps for the first time.

For those who lived in that era, with no direct war bride connection, the exhibit still stirs up emotion. They see their mother or grandmother when they look at the portraits. They may feel inclined to delve into their own family history. Young girls read the stories and think, I could never do that.

Others look in awe at the sense of style and fashion of a generation that could turn a simple blanket into an elegant suit.


That is Elly’s story, a Dutch war bride who had nothing left after the war. She was married in a U. S. army blanket tailored into a suit, it being a finer fabric than the Canadian issue. For students studying the Second World War this exhibit brings to life an important part of our history not often found in textbooks. The immigration numbers were unprecedented; one in 30 Canadians claim to have a war bride in their family tree.

Bev Tosh has given us a gift. As war bride Peggy Carter’s son, Dr. Robin Carter, so aptly stated, “War brides are a significant patch on the cultural quilt we call Canada.”

As The Memory Project is gathering stories of Second World War veterans, Tosh through her work is gathering stories of Second World War brides. This grass-roots project is a labour of love graciously reflected in her innovative creations. This thoroughly contemporary exhibit is creating a great deal of interest and drawing crowds, sometimes by the busload, from around the province.

Kudos to the Portage &District Arts Centre for having the vision to display the work of this fine Canadian artist.



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War Brides:One-Way Passage

Will be on display at the Portage &District Arts Centre until October 30, 2010. The arts centre is at 11 2nd Street NE, Portage la Prairie, Man. and is open Tuesday to Saturday 11 a. m. to 5 p. m. Ph. 239-6029 or Email [email protected]

Admission is free, with donations gratefully accepted. To date this is the only scheduled stop in Manitoba. For more information visit

About the author

Freelance contributor

Sandi Knight is a farm wife and partner, mom, professional writer and amateur photographer who lives and works in the Macdonald, Man. area. You can find more of her writing at



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