Canada in WW1

 

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3. WWI and Canada as a Nation

 

The British 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.   There 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".

 

 At 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).

 

 

 

 

 

By 1916, Canada 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.

 

Despite bitter opposition in Quebec, the Conservatives won the elections of 1917 and imposed conscription.

 

For the French Canadians, 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 sabotage.

 

 

 

 

Nonetheless, the war had many positive consequences for Canada. From a national 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.

 

Economically 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.