This grand two-storey home has sat alone on a beach in the village of Bernières-sur-Mer, in Normandy, France, looking toward England across the English Channel. The house became a landmark for the troops because almost every Canadian landing on Juno Beach at that time saw the large timber home as they came onto the beach from their landing crafts. On D-Day, it was the first house to be liberated by Canadians during Operation Overlord, the Allied military operation to try to liberate France. Miraculously, the home survived the war and is now known as ‘Canada House’.
By Don Lawrence
In early February 2015, my son and I were alone on a section of the Normandy coastline code-named Juno Beach. It was one of five D-Day landing beaches: the Americans landed on Utah and Omaha; the British on Gold(fish) and Sword(fish); and the Canadians on Juno, an eight-kilometre stretch of beach near Bemières-sur-mer. After Churchill rejected the original code-name Jelly(fish), Juno was named after the wife of British Wing Commander Michael Dawnay.
A chill wind always seems to blow no matter the time or season but on June 6, 1944, the wind was accompanied by heaving seas hosting an allied armada carrying 14,00 Canadian assault troops. Along the beach were strategically placed German concrete pillboxes, machine-gun emplacements, 88-mm cannons and thousands of young men fighting for their lives. Canadians suffered 1,074 casualties, including 359 killed.
My father drove a Sherman tank and landed with the Canadian 2nd Armoured Brigade. I wanted my son to experience and remember his grandfather’s wartime journey and among the remnants of the battle was a German pillbox and rusted cannon – the same one that covered the beach with gunfire 71 years ago. We also examined a Canadian Sherman tank, displaying the badges of the 14 units that landed on D-Day.
The Juno Beach Centre
Nearby is the Juno Beach Centre, a museum situated immediately behind the landing beach. In the 1990s a group of Canadian veterans felt recognition was deserved in the Normandy region for the contributions and sacrifices of Canadian soldiers during the liberation of Europe. The grassroots fundraising campaign eventually grew and achieved financial support from businesses and institutions, including the Canadian and French governments. The museum officially opened on June 6, 2003.
Each season young Canadian students experience life in Normandy, and act as guides at the Juno Beach Centre sharing Canada’s rich military history with visitors from all over the world. The museum depicts the role undertaken and loss sustained by the Canadian military and is an exceptionally fitting tribute and proof that Canadians did more than their share in 1944 and beyond.
Saving Juno Beach
Over the past two years, the Juno Beach Centre has fought its own battle, a legal one with a French developer who wanted to construct two condo buildings on the hallowed ground near the Juno Beach invasion site. According to Cindy Clegg of the Save Juno Beach campaign, the condo development “was a step too far for Canadians … our efforts to save Juno Beach from development told Canadians what was happening in France, at a time when authorities were looking the other way,” she said. “It should never have gotten to this point.”
“Canadians make a promise every Remembrance Day to never forget the sacrifices made for future generations. And this year, we forced our government to step up and protect the legacy and reputation of our country as an ally and force for good in a war-torn world.”
At the beginning of October 2022 – victory! The local council in Courseulles-Sur-Mer decided to purchase the land with help from the Canadian and French governments. The campaign worked and the land and legacy of the Canadians who liberated Europe from Nazi control will be preserved for years to cone.