United Nations Emergency Force in Egypt, December 1956.
United Nations (UN 52021).

United Nations Emergency Force in Egypt, December 1956.

Canadian soldiers stand in formation upon their arrival in Egypt. The Canadian force was part of a larger contingent of troops from Columbia, Denmark, Finland, India, Norway, Sweden, and Yugoslavia that the UN sent to Egypt to establish peace.

The most significant of Canada's early peacekeeping missions occurred in 1956, when a dispute over the Suez Canal threatened the stability of the Middle East. The British were in the process of decolonization in Asia and Africa. Accordingly, in 1955, they relinquished control of the Suez Canal, owned by a predominantly British company, to Egypt. A year later, the Egyptian government nationalized the canal (and thus took ownership away from the British company) because Britain would not provide loans for a massive irrigation project. In October 1956, a joint English-French-Israeli military force attempted to regain control of the Suez Canal.

Lester B. Pearson Accepts Nobel Peace Prize, Norway, December 1957.
National Archives of Canada (PA-121704, photo by Duncan Cameron).

Lester B. Pearson Accepts Nobel Peace Prize, Norway, December 1957.

Pearson was awarded the peace prize for his efforts to resolve the Suez Crisis.

The invasion sparked an international crisis. The Canadian secretary of state for external affairs, Lester Pearson, was, however, able to negotiate a diplomatic solution. One of the key elements of the settlement was an innovative method to help establish peace in the region: the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). This large, multinational military force was positioned between the opposing Egyptian and Israeli armies to prevent the outbreak of hostilities. Canadian General E.L.M. Burns, Chief of Staff (that is to say, commander (1) ) of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, commanded the UNEF. The Canadian contribution to this international contingent was originally to be based on the 1st Battalion, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. The unit, including their vehicles and equipment, had been moved from Calgary to Halifax by air and rail and was already loaded on board HMCS Magnificent when President Nasser announced his refusal to accept a regiment of "soldiers of the Queen." The Canadian contingent was then changed to one of communications and logistics (supply, transport, and air movements) and, in fact, these support functions became very much a Canadian specialty. Indeed, they were the basis of Canada's reputation as a peacekeeping nation until Cyprus in 1964. Early in 1957, however, a joint Canadian-Yugoslav reconnaissance unit was created and gave Canadian combat arms soldiers a UNEF role. The Canadian component-56 Reconnaissance Squadron and Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, manned initially by contingents from the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the Lord Strathcona's Horse-was equipped with Ferret scout cars and jeeps. Future rotations were done by sending complete reconnaissance squadrons from one of the four armoured regiments of the era: Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), Fort Garry Horse, and the 8th Canadian Hussars. All four ultimately participated in the mission.

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower Discusses the Suez Crisis with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 14 August 1956.
United States, National Archives and Records Administration. Available online at Images of American Political History [23 December 1999].

U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower Discusses the Suez Crisis with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, 14 August 1956.

The Suez Crisis resulted in strained relations between the United States and its senior European allies, France and Great Britain. The Canadian government, led by the Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester Pearson, succeeded in defusing this dangerous international crisis.

With the arrival of the UNEF, the fighting between the combatants halted and a ceasefire was achieved. For his part in resolving the Suez Crisis, Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • 1. UNTSO's first commander, Sweden's Count Bernadotte, was assassinated in 1948. His Chief of Staff replaced him, but, out respect to Bernadotte, the title of the senior appointment in UNTSO to this day remains chief of staff.
 

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