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British war bride Joyce Hillman Bezeau donated a wonderfully detailed memoir about her wartime experiences, courtship and crossing but that is not what we have chosen to share this month. In honour of the arrival of summer in Canada we share a chapter from Joyce’s writings about her early years in Canada, entitled "Blackflies". It evokes a different time, a time when industrious war brides found practical solutions to a myriad of challenges and when small Canadian towns were liberally doused with DDT.

"...Blackflies

We were always glad to see the end of the winter but the summers often left a lot to be desired. As the weather got warmer out would come the blackflies. They were so vicious and would bite around the eyes, ears and under the hair at the back of the neck. The children especially would really suffer as they went outdoors to play. Then when the kids scratched, the bites become infected. My friend Isabel and I invented a fly netting hood out of old net curtains that covered their hair and ears and tucked down inside their blouses. It didn't help the eyes, but the fly dope we sprayed on the netting did keep most of the flies at a distance. If their little t-shirts became separated from the shorts, the children would come home with their bodies bitten in a complete circle.

It got so bad that many of the children were hospitalized due to the infections. The Company brought in aeroplanes to spray the town with DDT. That was really exciting. We would all go outside to watch the low flying planes spraying up and down the streets. We learned that it was a good idea to cover the cars as the DDT spots would cause permanent damage to the paint. But, being a little dim witted, it never occurred to us to question the fact that it might be harmful to humans. It was my belief the Company was using some method to prevent forest fires, something to do with shooting silver nitrate into the clouds. While they were engaged in this process, we had the wettest, rainiest summer ever recorded, and more blackflies. After a couple of summers, the government banned the use of DDT…”

Our thanks to Joyce once again for sharing her memories and our best wishes to everyone for a summer free of blackflies.


Wedding portrait of Joyce Mary Hillman Bezeau, February 5, 1945.

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 [R2015.209.1]