May 8 is Victory in Europe (VE) Day, a day that commemorates when Allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945, marking the end of five and half years of conflict in Europe, and deep sacrifices on the home front. At the news, Canadians from coast to coast celebrated – as CBC reporter Matthew Halton put it, “Today the sun rises, as it hasn’t risen for nearly six years.”

Canadians had been at war since September 1939 — retooling factories, mobilizing men and women, and sending troops and resources overseas. Before the United States entered the fight, Canada stood beside Britain and the oppressed peoples of Western Europe, intent on defeating Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.

Hitler’s Nazis conquered most of Western Europe in a few months of fighting in the spring of 1940. He ruled Europe, but he made two fatal errors: he invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, and he declared war on the United States days after Japan attacked the Americans, British and Dutch in the Pacific on Dec. 7, 1941.

Between August 1940 and March 1945 the US Army Air Force, the Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force and Soviet bombers launched more than 350 air strikes on Berlin. The Allies forced the surrender of Italy in 1943 and advanced through France after D-Day in 1944. In addition, and despite enormous losses, the Soviet Red Army kept moving westward, decimating German divisions. After nearly four years of intense fighting, Soviet forces launched their assault on Berlin on April 16, 1945. Nazi forces were vastly outnumbered and outgunned, and could do nothing but slow the Soviet advance. Hitler committed suicide on April 30.

The leaders of the remainder of the German forces then sat at a table in Reims, France with the Allied leaders. At 2:41 in the morning of May 7, the German leader Gen. Jodl signed the document stating Germany agreed to an unconditional surrender thus ending the years of death and destruction of the war in Europe.

Though the official announcement was not to be made until May 8, news of the surrender and the end of the war had leaked out and spontaneous celebrations began across Canada as word spread. May 8 was to be declared Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day.

Watch: This British Movietone newsreel shows Prime Minister Winston Churchill announcing Victory in Europe Day, the King’s VE Day broadcast, and the jubilant crowds for whom “rejoicing was off the ration.”

Watch: This Canadian Army Newsreel shows VE celebrations coast to coast. For a closer look at how one Canadian city prepared for and celebrated VE Day, watch this short documentary produced by the Hamilton Public Library.

Despite victory in Europe, Canadian and other Allied fighters were still engaged in combat in the Pacific, and it would be three more months until Japanese leaders surrendered. On August 6 and 9, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 9, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. On August 10, Japan communicated its intention to surrender under the terms of the Potsdam Declaration. VJ Day (Victory over Japan) was celebrated on September 2, 1945, along with the official end of the Second World War.