The International Brigades

When standing by and doing nothing is not an option: an inspiring story of coming together to take a stand against fascism: a documentary film about the British Columbia volunteers of the International Brigades.

Growing up, I knew that my great uncle Peter died in the Spanish Civil War. What I didn't know until much later is that he was part of something bigger - the International Brigades.

Peter Johnson

Peter Johnson

The Brigades were a 40,000 strong volunteer army from over 70 countries around the world. They left their family, friends and homes to come to the aid of the newly democratically Spanish Republic, who were resisting a military coup led by General Franco and supported by fascist Germany and Italy.

1700 Canadians responded to the call to combat the forces of fascism in a civil war half a world away. Almost a quarter of all Canadian volunteers came from British Columbia. Loggers, miners, sailors, professionals and unemployed, they came from cities and towns across the province.

Most of the volunteers defied their own government in order to go to Spain. Canada, along with many other countries worldwide, established a non-intervention pact preventing aid and military intervention.  Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act made it illegal to volunteer to fight in the war.

In researching my great uncle's story, I have learned more about British Columbia’s 1930’s turbulent labour history.   Many of the volunteers were united in their fight for secure employment, living wages and safer working conditions.  A great number were labour organizers and participants in BC’s pivotal labour moments  - protests such as the Relief Camp workers’ strike, the On to Ottawa trek, the 35-36 Seamen’s strike and the riot at Ballantyne Pier. 

Many saw in Spain the struggle they were experiencing in British Columbia;  they saw the risk of fascism and tried to stop its spread -yet their story is not taught at school, not recognized at Remembrance Day ceremonies by Veterans Affairs Canada,  by Heritage Canada or as a part of BC labour history. 

This documentary will allow British Columbians to learn this important piece of history and the BC volunteers place in that history.


You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic examples of democracy, solidarity and universality. We shall not forget you, and when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves again, come back, and all of you will find the love and gratitude of the whole Spanish people who, now and in the future, will cry out with all their hearts, long live the heroes of the International Brigades
— Dolores Ibárruri, La Pasionaria