ANC-C6859 | Anti-conscription parade at Victoria Square

Anti-conscription parade at Victoria Square
May 1917, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

Sir Robert Borden's 1917 visit to Britain coincided with the brilliant Canadian capture of Vimy Ridge. A Paris newspaper called it Canada's Easter gift to France. Colleagues congratulated him, but the 10,000 dead and wounded made conscription inevitable. So did news that Russia had collapsed. The United States entered the war, but its armies, raised by conscription, would not be ready for a year or more. Borden came home to Canada with no option: conscription was unavoidable. Laurier might have agreed, but to admit it was to hand Quebec to his bitter rival Henri Bourassa and the nationalistes.

Many in Canada opposed conscription -- farmers, employers, recent immigrants and those who did not want to enlist -- but they left open opposition to French-speaking Quebeckers. Armed with a score of grievances against the English-speaking majority, from attacks on French in Ontario schools to resentment at British imperial arrogance, Quebeckers refused to be coerced to serve in a war that seemed to have nothing to do with their safety or with Canada's security. The more they were pressured, the more they would resist. On May 24, 1917 one of many warning demonstrations wended its way into Montreal's Victoria Square.

  • What

    The small placards scattered along the march identifies it as a protest march. Before television, elaborate displays were not necessary. Spectators could "read" the cause and the rest of the community could read about it through the press.

  • Where

    The demonstration winds into Victoria Square in Montreal's "upper" downtown. Note the English signs and advertising, a common feature of Montreal before Bill 101. The British flags reflect wartime patriotism in Montreal's largely English-speaking business community.

  • When

    Although the dark clothes and occasional overcoat suggest a cold day, this demonstration took place on May 24, 1917, a patriotic holiday in recognition of Queen Victoria's birthday. It was not yet reserved in francophone Quebec for la fête de Dollard des Ormeaux, the Montreal soldier who in 1660 died resisting a Mohawk raiding party from the Ottawa river. The presence of children among the spectators suggests that the protest was peaceful and orderly.

  • Who

    A procession of Montrealers winds through downtown streets to demonstrate opposition to the introduction of conscription by the Borden government.