Government of Canada honours national historic significance of Second World War code breakers

Ceremony marks the Examination Unit, Canada’s first cryptographic bureau

OTTAWA, ON, Aug. 6, 2022 /CNW/ – Today, the Honourable Mona Fortier, President of the Treasury Board and Member of Parliament for OttawaVanier, commemorated the national historic significance of Canada’s first cryptographic bureau, the Examination Unit (XU) during a special ceremony to unveil a plaque at Laurier House National Historic Site. The announcement was made on behalf of the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada.

The Examination Unit was located at 345 Laurier Ave East, Ottawa, for much of the Second World War. Photo circa 1920s. Credit: Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada/ PA-034301 (CNW Group/Parks Canada)

Canadian code breakers played an important role in gathering intelligence for the Allied war efforts during the Second World War. The XU began operation in 1941 and helped break codes and ciphers used in secret military and diplomatic communications. The founding of the XU represented a step by the Canadian government to gain more independence and become a valued intelligence partner.

For most of the Second World War, the XU was based in the mansion that used to sit at 345 Laurier Ave East. This property neighboured Laurier House National Historic Site, the residence of Canada’s wartime Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie-King. Having the code breakers working right next door meant that the Prime Minister was close to important intelligence that helped guide Canada through some of its most defining moments of the 20th century.

The bureau’s contributions to Allied efforts at breaking the codes and ciphers used in secret military and diplomatic communications, and its decryption of intercepted Vichy, Free French, German, Japanese, and Spanish-language messages, provided Canada with an independent source of foreign intelligence, and the means of building important intelligence partnerships with the United States, Britain, and the Commonwealth, which continued after the war.

Women made up roughly 40 percent of the cryptographic bureau’s total known workforce, reflecting changes that were occurring in Canadian workplaces during the war.

The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant persons, places, and events that shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians and youth connect with their past. The designation process under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration is largely driven by public nominations. To date, more than 2,200 designations have been made nationwide.

National historic designations illustrate the defining moments in the story of Canada. Together, they tell the stories of who we are and connect us to our past, enriching our understanding of ourselves, each other, and our country. Heritage places provide a wide range of cultural, social, economic, and environmental benefits to their communities. 


“On behalf of the Government of Canada, I am pleased to commemorate the national historic significance of the Examination Unit. The XU, and its significant workforce of women, was the birthplace of more independent Canadian intelligence gathering and analysis, which evolved into Canada’s Communications Security Establishment. To this day, Canada’s national security expertise can trace its advancements back to the competency and tradecraft of the XU, even as telecommunications technologies have changed dramatically since the Second World War. National historic designations reflect Canada’s rich and varied history and I encourage all Canadians to learn more about the Examination Unit and its important contributions to Canada’s heritage.”

The Honourable Mona Fortier

President of the Treasury Board and Member of Parliament for OttawaVanier

Quick Facts
  • The Examination Unit operated from June 1941 until its dissolution in August 1945.
  • The Edwardian mansion that housed the Examination Unit was demolished in the 1960s to allow the construction of the apartment building that currently sits beside Laurier House. The mansion had been built in 1903 for John Edwards, an Ottawa lumber baron.
  • Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change regarding the national historic significance of persons, places, and events that have marked Canada’s history. Together with Parks Canada, the Board ensures that subjects of national historic significance are recognized and these important stories are shared with Canadians.
  • The vast majority of nominations brought forward for consideration by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada originate from members of the public. To nominate a person, place or historical event in your community, please visit the Parks Canada website for more information:
Related Documents

Backgrounder: The Examination Unit

Related Links

Parks Canada Agency 

Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Framework for History and Commemoration

Communications Security Establishment – History

SOURCE Parks Canada


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