By Kevin Levangie, Daniel Marcotte, and Emily Robins Sharpe. Updated 7 March 2019.



January—General Miguel Primo de Rivera begins his right wing dictatorship, inspired by Mussolini’s corporatist state. His rule follows the short lived First Republican period, and restores the monarchy. He rules for seven years, suppressing the left as well as monarchist groups and representatives of the old constitutional monarchy.


The seeds of the Second Republic are sown when a coalition of leftist groups gather and unite in support of working toward the establishment of the Second Republic.


Primo de Rivera’s government falls, having failed to gain the mass support that Mussolini relied on to consolidate power. Two successive military dictators spend a year trying to return to a constitutional monarchy following Primo de Rivera’s fall, but are unsuccessful.


April 12—The Republican coalition that was formed in 1926 wins the election against a divided right. Alfonso XIII abdicates after being ordered by the Republican leader Alcalá-Zamora to leave the country by sundown, and the Second Spanish Republic is proclaimed.

December 9—The new liberal constitution is established.


November—A well-organized and financed right wing coalition wins the elections. The election occurs when the left is disorganized and demoralized following two years of milquetoast social and economic reform from Republican moderates, which alienated both the socialists and more conservative republicans.


October—Repression by the right wing government and the introduction of a new cabinet lead to a Socialist uprising, most prominently in the Asturian region where radical miners go much farther than the leadership anticipate and begin a full-scale revolution. The government responds by crushing the uprising with troops, closing the leftist presses, and imprisoning their leaders.


June 3—Canada: The On-to-Ottawa Trek sees hundreds of relief workers strike and march to Ottawa in protest. The trek is stopped short by the Regina Riot on June 26, as mounted police charge and fire upon trekkers. Many of the trek's participants go on to volunteer in Spain. 

August—The Seventh Congress of the Communist International proposes a global popular front strategy to resist the threat of fascism. This results in the cessation of revolutionary agitation and the unification of all anti-fascist parties wherever possible. 

The War


February 16—The electoral Popular Front narrowly wins the Spanish election, taking 4.65 million votes, while the right takes 4.5 and the centre another 526,000. However, because of a majority-friendly electoral law, the left wins 285 seats, the right 131, and the centre 57.

March—The new Popular Front government begins seizing land from the biggest land owners for redistribution, scaring the largest land owners but invigorating many peasants and workers.

July 17—The military conspirators bring their months of planning to a head and launch their attempted coup, aiming to seize Spanish Morocco and then move on to major military, economic and political centres across Spain.

July 18—Unions declare a general strike. Leftist groups, as well as some sections of the national police, resist the military uprising with varying degrees of success. The coup is only partially successful at gaining control of the mainland.

July 18—The coup fails to gain control and the government and worker’ associations fail to crush it. The resulting stalemate is the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.

July 20—The new Republican government of Jose Giral begins to arm the working class and the unions to halt the Nationalist advance.

July 25—Franco successfully appeals to Hitler for aid. Hitler’s aid is more than ideologically motivated: the Nazis would come to use Spain as a laboratory for the tactics and pilots of their fledgling “Condor Legion,” a section of the Luftwaffe. Along with Mussolini’s Italian forces, they would also test their ground troops.

July 26—German and Italian planes land in Spanish Morocco to transport Franco’s shock troops to the mainland. The earlier Nationalist plan to use Spanish Navy ships to ferry the troops to the mainland fails, as the majority of both the Spanish Navy and Airforce remained loyal to the Republic.

August—Spearheaded by French and British diplomats, 24 countries—including Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union—sign the Non-Intervention Treaty, declaring that they will not interfere in what is labeled a civil war. Despite the treaty, Germany and Italy send combat troops and a great deal of material aid, while the USSR sends military advisors, equipment, and pilots.

September—Henning Sorensen arrives in Spain to assess the medical needs of the Republic on behalf of the “Spanish Aid Committee.” He later works with Bethune at the transfusion institute.

October 1—Emerging from a complex web of power struggles on the Nationalist side, Franco becomes Generalissimo and supreme commander of the right-wing coalition. Similarly to Mussolini’s title Duce or Hitler’s Führer, he comes to be known as Caudillo, meaning “chief” or “leader.”

October 14—The first large group of international volunteers arrives at Albacete.

November 3—Bethune arrives in Madrid with the intention of joining one of the local hospitals as a surgeon. As they have enough physicians and he doesn’t speak Spanish, the hospitals turn him away.

November 4—Anarchists join the Popular Front government, breaking with their policy of avoiding governmental power.

November 8—First units of the International Brigades arrive in Madrid.

November 14—Bethune conceives of his mobile blood transfusion unit, the Servicio canadiense de transfusion de sangre.

December—Republican government sends the majority of their gold reserve to Russia as collateral against weapon shipments and for safekeeping.

December 6—Mussolini agrees to send troops to Spain. The Corpo di Truppe Volontarie arrives in late December.

December 8—Accompanied by Henning Sorensen and Hazen Sise, Norman Bethune’s blood transfusion unit crosses the French-Spanish border, headed for Madrid.


January- The Abraham Lincoln Battalion is formed.

February 6-27—Battle of Jarama: Franco attempts to rush Madrid and cut it off from the rest of Republican territory. The Republicans successfully repel the offensive, but not without disproportionately heavy losses to their own forces.

March 12—The Nazis invade Austria, displacing the existing fascist “Fatherland Front” in favour of a German puppet regime.

April 19—The Non-Intervention Committee begins its Non-Intervention patrols of land and maritime borders.

April 26—The Nazi Condor Legion and the Italian Legionary Airforce bomb the Basque town of Guernica. The attack becomes a rallying point for Republican supporters and is made famous by Picasso’s painting, Guernica.

May 3-8—Sections of the Republican forces turn on each other in Barcelona. This leads to street fighting, the departure of the Anarchists from the Popular Front, and the dissolution of the Trotskyist-aligned POUM (Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista/Partit Obrer d'Unificació Marxista). The leaders of POUM are eventually executed under unclear circumstances.

May—Bethune leaves Spain in complicated circumstances. Back in Canada, he begins a successful speaking tour, raising funds and public support for the Republican cause.

May 29—The Ciudad de Barcelona, carrying around 250 Internationals, sails from Marseille to Barcelona and is torpedoed by an Italian submarine the next day. 60 to 65 International volunteers are killed in the attack.

July 1—The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion is officially formed. The Battalion officers are mostly American and the soldiers are a mix of Canadians, other English speakers, and a growing number of Spanish draftees.

July 6-25—Battle of Brunete: Republican forces attempt to hold off northern Nationalist advances to Madrid and prove Spanish tactical potency to French and Russian supporters. While the battle was strategically inconclusive, the Republicans suffered much heavier casualties to both personnel and artillery. 

July 31—The Canadian parliament passes “The Foreign Enlistment Act of 1937,” making it illegal to enlist in either the Republican or Nationalist sides in Spain. The Act is clearly an attempt to limit the number of Canadian volunteers joining the International Brigades, as very few international volunteers are known to have joined the Nationalists.

August 10—The Canadian government restricts the issuance of passports. Canadian volunteers’ passports’ are stamped “Not Valid for Spain” from then on. Many volunteers travel under the auspices of attending the 1937 World Fair in Paris.

August 24-September 7—Battle of Belchite: Republican forces attempt to take Zaragoza, the capital of the Nationalist-controlled Aragon region, via the nearby city of Belchite. The battle is a Pyrrhic victory for the Republicans, as they ultimately fail to capture Zaragoza and suffer heavy losses at Belchite.

December 15, 1937-February 22, 1938—Battle of Teruel: Republican forces successfully capture the tactically advantageous mountain city of Teruel, only to be driven back by the Nationalists after weeks of attrition from the cold. The battle is a turning point in the war, in which Republican Spain’s troops, resources and morale are nearly exhausted.


March 9—Franco launches a massive air and land assault on the Aragon front, causing hundreds of Republican troops to retreat eastward. Numerous Spaniards and Internationals are captured during these retreats, due to Franco suspending his “take no prisoners” policy.

July 25-November 16—Battle of the Ebro: Thanks to the air superiority of the German Condor Legion and the Italian Aviazione Legionaria, Franco’s Nationalists advance on the Ebro River and push their way to Spain’s eastern coast. Their victory effectively severs the Republican zone in two, cutting off the Republican capital of Barcelona from southeastern Spain.

September 21—Juan Negrín announces the withdrawal of all international volunteers in hopes of persuading the Nationalists to withdraw Italian and German troops. He fails.

September 23—Final day for the majority of Canadians in battle in Spain.

September 30—The Munich Agreement is signed by Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, France and the United Kingdom, legitimizing Germany’s annexation of German-speaking regions in Czechoslovakia. The pact formed a part of Europe’s appeasement policies towards Fascist regimes to avoid world war. Despite being allied with Czechoslovakia, France and the United Kingdom legally supported Germany’s imperialistic expansion.

October 29—International Brigades are given a farewell parade in Barcelona. La Pasionaria gives her famous speech, which includes the words: “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality.”

December 23—Franco launches the Catalonia Offensive, an attempt to capture the now-isolated northern province of Catalonia and the city of Barcelona, the Republican capital since October 1938. Thousands of people attempting to flee north into France via Catalonia are intercepted by Nationalist forces and imprisoned in internment camps.


January 26—Barcelona falls.

February 10—Having entirely secured territory along the French-Spanish border, Franco closes the border to France.

February 28—Franco’s government is recognized by Great Britain and France.

March 5—Juan Negrín leaves Spain from Valencia.

March 15—Hitler invades Czechoslovakia, indicating that he was not solely interested in obtaining the country’s German-speaking regions.

March 20—Valencia falls.

March 31—Madrid falls.

April 1—Republican armies surrender and Franco, now the leader of Spain, declares the war to be over.

May 22—Hitler and Mussolini sign the “Pact of Steel,” legally solidifying their military and political alliance.

September 1—Germany invades Poland and World War II begins.



Italy submits a bill for a war debt of 7.5 billion lire to Franco.


Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano is published by Penguin Books in Harmondsworth, and by Jonathan Cape in London, England.


Hugh Garner’s Cabbagetown is published in truncated form by Collins White Circle in Toronto, Canada.


Mordecai Richler’s The Acrobats is published by André Deutsch in London, England.


Hugh MacLennan’s The Watch that Ends the Night is published by MacMillan in Toronto, Canada.


Donald Brittain's documentary Bethune is produced by the National Film Board. 


Mac Reynolds interviews volunteers for the CBC.


Hugh Garner’s Cabbagetown published in its complete form by Ryerson Press in Toronto, Canada.


Franco dies. King Juan Carlos begins a tentative process of democratization.


National Film Board releases Los Canadienses, a documentary about the Canadian volunteers.


Leonard Cohen releases Recent Songs, including the Spanish Civil War song “The Traitor,” with Columbia.


Mordecai Richler’s Joshua Then and Now is published in New York City, Toronto, and London (and dedicated to Ted Allan).


CBC's Living Out Loud releases "The Spanish Crucible," a radio documentary assembled out of Mac Reynold's interviews with Mac-Paps recorded 50 years prior.


September 4—Jules Paivio, the last surviving Canadian veteran of the International Brigades, dies at age 96.


January—Ted Allan's This Time a Better Earth is brought back into print (perhaps for the first time in Canada) by the University of Ottawa Press. The new scholarly edition is edited by Dr Bart Vautour.

May—Hugh Garner's Best Stories is republished by the University of Ottawa Press, and edited by Dr Emily Robins Sharpe.