3. WWI and Canada
as a Nation
declaration of war on Germany automatically included Canada in
the conflict. The Dominion, as a full member of the British
Empire, had no constitutional right to keep away from the
conflict, and anyway Canadians did not want to keep away.
was a consensus
that Canada’s mission was to support the mother country in a
just war. Moreover, Germany was
depicted as a rogue state breaking the laws of civilization.
British propaganda depicted Germans as barbarians using mass
destruction weapons like submarines and gas. Canada was fighting not only for the mother country but civilization.
620,000 men, half of them
British-born, went to France, out of a population
of 7,5 million. Soon France was covered with trenches running from Switzerland to the Channel.
The only method to break the deadlock was series of frontal assaults,
which caused a massive loss of men, including Canadian soldiers.
The highpoints of Canadian military achievement during the First
World War came in 1917 during the Somme, Vimy, and Passchendaele
battles and what later became known as "Canada's Hundred Days".
the end of the war, Canada's total casualties stood at 67,000
killed and 250,000 wounded, out of an expeditionary force of
620,000 people mobilized (39% of mobilized were casualties).
was finding it hard to recruit enough men to maintain its effort. French Canadians, who
were not interested in helping the "mother country", were
reluctant to volunteer. English Canadians began feeling that a conscription
was necessary to continue the war effort and force Quebec to do its duty.
bitter opposition in Quebec, the Conservatives won the elections of 1917
and imposed conscription.
For the French
conscription was an example
of the majority brutally imposing its will on the minority.
Other groups of Canadians suffered
from the war, like 8,000 Canadians of German and Austro-Hungarian
origin who were interned in labor camps for 2 years for fear of
Despite the human losses, the war had many positive consequences for Canada.
From a political point of view,
participation in WW1 was a coming of age experience for Canada. At first Canada was treated as colony and was not consulted on the
strategic choices made by the British government. However, by 1917,
the Imperial war
cabinet agreed on a new status for the settlement colonies
(Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa), whose
equality with the mother country was recognized. This accession
to a truly national status was achieved through the war effort
and military participation. But it must be remembered that
participation in WW1 weakened the national unity of Canada,
because of the bitter and last resentment created among French
Canadians by the conscription crisis.
the war brought prosperity to Canada. Food production, especially wheat, multiplied by 2.
The government intervened to regulate the economy and adapt it
to the war effort. The railways were nationalized; social programmes to
help mothers and veterans were introduced and constituted a first step toward
the future welfare system; an income tax, whose purpose was to
conscript wealth as well as men, was introduced in 1917.
The war also promoted the reform movement. In patriotic support of
Prohibition, all the provinces except Quebec went dry until 1919.
The participation of women in the war effort gained them the right to
vote, which was part of the 1917 Conservative platform. Native
Canadians participated in the war too, and were also rewarded
with the right to vote.