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Wanted! 500, 000 Canadians for WW I

Desmond Morton, McGIll University

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Introduction:

Why did men join the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) - or what did recruiters think would persuade them? After 6,000 Canadians were killed or wounded at Ypres in April, 1915, no one could pretend that the war would be a short picnic in France. During the next twelve months close to 350,000 Canadian men (out of about 4 million men in the population) put on khaki uniforms and went off to war. Brilliant Canadian propaganda masterminded by Sir Max Aitken, a Canadian newspaper magnate in Britain, persuaded contemporaries and posterity alike that Canadian soldiers fought valiantly and well. The truth, as usual, was more complicated.


ANC-PA22739
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
Revue de fourbi, 11e Bataillon, Valcartier, Québec
Septembre 1914, 20e siècle
ANC-PA22739
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

Here are volunteers at Valcartier from Winnipeg and Saskatchewan half way through their training and waiting for a "kit inspection" on a warm Saturday morning. Their officers will report that most men have military caps and trousers, a few have jackets and one man wears his bowler hat. There is no sign yet of rifles or other weapons. The war is a long way off and may be over by Christmas. In fact, by next April 6,000 men like this will have been killed, wounded or badly gassed at the Battle of Ypres. War was not an adventure; it was not fun, and it was by no means cheap.

Quoi:

Like other Canadians, soldiers in the 1914-1918 war did not wear light clothing in hot weather. Their wool serge trousers and long-sleeved heavy flannel shirts were a concession to hot weather, as they were not wearing their serge wool tunics.

Où:

These soldiers are camped on a dusty, sandy plain at Valcartier outside Quebec City, selected before the war as a training ground for the militia because Valcartier was close to Canada's major passenger seaport, as a mobilization base for future wars.

Quand:

The photograph was taken by an anonymous photographer in September, 1914.

Qui:

These are soldiers from the 11th Provisional Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, composed almost equally of soldiers from Winnipeg and from Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon and Prince Albert in Saskatchewan. Many were recent immigrants from England.

MP-1987.34.7
© Musée McCord
Affiche
Le Canada, pays de l'avenir, affiche, Ont., 1910
Essex County Chronicle
1910, 19e siècle
22 x 14 cm
MP-1987.34.7
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

During the 1900s, Canada invested enormously to connect the West to eastern seaports. Three transcontinental railways crossed the empty landscape of northern Ontario and snaked through the Rockies on separate routes. Agriculture produced the bulk of Canada's exports and the freight railways needed to pay off their investors. The country needed experienced farmers, and people of British stock would preserve an identity that some claimed was in jeopardy with the influx of immigrants from central Europe. Frankly, most Canadians favoured people like themselves, preferably from England. Other European immigrants were thought acceptable, but few French would leave la douce France for a frozen Canada. England was a better prospect, and the government paid lecturers to visit rural villages to attract farmers' sons frustrated with "the Old Country". It worked. Tens of thousands packed up and took ship for Canada.

However, the promised prosperity was fading, even in 1910. By 1912 Canada was gripped by an economic depression that would last until 1915. Drought and other miseries afflicted prairie farmers. In 1914 much of the wheat crop failed. Canada meant poverty and deep disappointment. When war came, enlistment promised a job and a free trip home to England as well as patriotic duty done. Seven out of ten soldiers in the First Contingent were British-born; many of them recent immigrants. Even by the end of the war, half the members of the CEF were British-born, compared to 15 per cent of the Australian Imperial Force.

Quoi:

This leaflet was distributed in the little English village of Writtle as part of a systematic campaign to attract agricultural immigrants to Canada.

Où:

Writtle, in Essex, was a small rural village in eastern England, not far from London, where immigration agents hoped that land hunger would make Canada attractive to farmers' sons. Far more British immigrants came from cities and towns, bringing urban skills that were also scarce in Canada.

Quand:

This lecture, at the end of 1910, coincided with the decline of Laurier-era prosperity as the business cycle slowed, inflation worried investors and European rivalries seemed to be pushing the continent to war.

Qui:

H. C. Lee was one of several paid lecturers, in this case by the Canadian Northern Railway, whose line from Toronto to Prince Rupert across the Prairies was one of two new transcontinental lines trying to compete with the older Canadian Pacific Railway.

PERS-11
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée
Photographie
Cinq soldats canadiens outre-mer
Vers 1917, 20e siècle
PERS-11
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée

Clefs de l'histoire:

In the army, comrades were the most important part of life. Having friends made a soldier braver. Who would dare let down his friends? Comrades shared burdens and dangers and gave a soldier confidence that someone would stop and help if he was wounded. This photo would remind each of these men of some good memories of the war. The War had brought them together from across the world. Having shared danger and death, these strangers were bound together as comrades by ties that rivalled the bonds of family and marriage. After the war, old soldiers would often try to rebuild such friendships through veterans' organizations. They had survived the winter. Soon their regiment, a battalion of Montreal's famous Royal Highlanders of Canada or Black Watch, would join the battles that brought the First World War to an end on November 11, 1918.

By then, one of the men here pictured would be dead and two others were to suffer wounds they would feel for the rest of their lives. One, Tom Dinesen, was to win the Victoria Cross, the British Empire's highest decoration for courage, and would be commissioned as an officer in the C.E.F. Which one do you think he is? Thomas Dinesen was a professional engineer from Denmark. His sister, Isaak Dinesen, was one of the 20th century's best-known novelists. Angry at what the Germans had done to his small country, Dinesen tried to join the American army but was refused. Canada accepted him and sent him to Montreal. Soon he was training in England and then on his way to France, one of half a million men Canada contributed to the Great War.

Quoi:

The five soldiers wear the uniform of Britain's Scottish regiments during the First World War: a heavy wool-serge tunic buttoned to the neck, a Black-Watch-pattern kilt, black leather boots, and woollen puttees wound around the top of the boots and up the leg. Their Balmoral caps include the "Red Hackle", the distinguishing badge of the Black Watch in Britain and Canada. In the 18th century the first members of the regiment had dipped feathers in their enemies' blood and worn them as a badge.

Où:

Having survived the winter of 1917-1918, five soldiers from the 42nd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, walked to the French village of Lières and had their picture taken by the local photographer.

Quand:

In his war memoirs Merry Hell Tom Dinesen records the date as May 21, 1918. His battalion had just been issued its dark kilts, the proper uniform for members of the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada, and though Dinesen had misgivings about wearing a kilt in the coming months of heat and rain, he and his comrades were proud to commemorate the occasion.

Qui:

Only two of the five men pictured would survive the year intact, Chriss Neilson (top left) who had run a tavern in Winnipeg, and Thomas Dinesen (bottom right). Mac McLean and Sam MacDonald (top, centre and right) would be badly wounded and Jack Andrews (bottom left) would be shot in the head and killed.

M24608.34
© Musée McCord
Affiche
L'Empire a besoin d'hommes! (...) Enrôlez-vous maintenant, 1914-1918
Arthur Wardle
1914-1918, 20e siècle
75.1 x 50.8 cm
M24608.34
© Musée McCord

Clefs de l'histoire:

When the British government's ultimatum to Berlin expired at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, on August 4, 1914, the worldwide British Empire was automatically at war with Germany. However, self-governing Dominions could decide whether to help. Only South Africa even hesitated - long enough to be left out of Arthur Wardle's famous cartoon. A Dominion like the others, South Africa was torn by civil war as a faction remembered the 1899-1902 war and rallied to the nearby German colony of South-West Africa. They were crushed, and South Africa fought in Africa and sent troops to France. Including India along with the so-called "white Dominions" as a "young lion" was potentially more controversial. India had a large, British-trained professional army that was more significant in the British war effort than all the self-governing Dominions combined in the war's opening years. However, Dominion support was emotionally significant in Britain .

"Canadien" was the common self-description of French-speaking people in Canada. Certainly, many Canadians identified themselves with their Dominion, but in 1914 most English-speaking Canadians would have described themselves as "British" and understood that this British-designed and British-printed poster applied to them.

Quoi:

The symbolic British lion and four of its cubs defy Germany in a 1914 patriotic cartoon
that becomes a recruiting poster by 1915.

Où:

Posters were displayed on hoardings and on the sides of buildings as part of an untidy urban environment.

Quand:

The absence of South Africa dates the cartoon from 1914, but it was published and used for recruiting in Britain in 1915 and included in stocks of posters sent to Canada.

Qui:

The Empire provided Britain with a large reserve of manpower which it had tried to organize and train before the war. India, which was not a Dominion but was governed from Britain, had a large, professional army that fought in France during the first winter of the war, suffering terribly from the cold. Later, Indian troops fought for the British against Turkey.

ANC-C68841
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
« À la guerre », Alberta
1914-1918, 20e siècle
ANC-C68841
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

A million Canadian men volunteered for the C.E.F. during the First World War, and half were accepted. Why did so many volunteer? Few could ever identify a single reason. In 1914 one Canadian worker in six was unemployed: some volunteers needed a job. Others craved excitement or escape. Many felt a sense of duty. Joining seemed the proper thing to do after what young men had learned in school, at church and from newspapers. Though most of them volunteered after the First Contingent had lost over 6,000 dead and wounded at Ypres in April 1915, they believed that, somehow, they would come home knowing that they had done their duty for King and Country. If they did not volunteer, they might always feel ashamed of themselves. Others might consider them cowards.

Quoi:

Recruiting standards required a man aged 18 to 45, physically fit, and at least 5 feet, 3 inches tall, with a chest measurement of 331/2 inches. Volunteers who were rejected had usually failed the physical, a sad commentary on the fitness of Canadian men. During the first year of the war a married recruit needed his wife's permission to enlist: some men were sent home when they could not get their spouse's approval. Although fitness standards were low, many unfit recruits were accepted. During the first three years of the war more disability pensions were paid to men who should not have been enlisted than were given to soldiers wounded at the Front.

Où:

Canada's Militia Department left recruiting to militia regiments or to prominent men who hoped to become colonels by recruiting their own battalions. The fact that a volunteer would serve with pals from his home town or county constituted a powerful recruiting tool.

Quand:

C.E.F. battalions recruited in 1915 and 1916 spent the best part of a year in Canada training and adding volunteers. In winter, because Canada had few barracks, they were often allowed to live at home, but in summer they lived in tented camps.

Qui:

Though half the potential recruits enlisted, another half did not. They too had reasons, from deep family commitments to a distaste for the brand of patriotism that attracted many other Canadians. For many French Canadians and for immigrants from central and eastern Europe, it was simply not their war. In French-speaking Quebec anti-war feelings were so strong that relatively few chose to volunteer. Men from countries at war with the British Empire were soon forbidden to enlist.

MA-N10053
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
Recrues canadiennes au Canada
1915, 20e siècle
MA-N10053
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

A proud platoon of recruits, a mixture of boys and mature men who volunteered in 1915, pose at a camp in Manitoba. They are probably sweating under their flannel shirts and heavy khaki wool trousers, but they are spared their wool serge tunics, and their heads are protected by the floppy straw "cows breakfast" adopted by most prairie farmers and by the Canadian militia in its peacetime training camps. The front ranks at least hold the Canadian-made Ross Rifle which, they have probably been told, is one of the most accurate military rifles in use in the world. Military life in the summer was a familiar experience for Canadian farm boys, even in peacetime. Joining the militia for summer camp was a good way to get away from familiar chores for a couple of weeks and to earn a few dollars. But this was a bigger adventure than some of these men realized: as many as half of them were not going to come home alive. Filling their shoes after the enthusiasts had left would shatter Canadian unity as it had never been broken before.

The Militia Department left recruiting to militia regiments or to prominent men who hoped to become colonels by enlisting their own battalions. A powerful appeal to recruitment was that a volunteer would serve with his pals and with men from his home town or county. A photograph like this, sent home to prove that all were well and happy, could bring added recruits.

Quoi:

A platoon of twenty men and two instructors (in peaked caps) lines up for a photographer. Most of the soldiers are wearing the customary summer camp uniform of a shirt, trousers, straw hat and regulation canvas or leather belt with a snake buckle. They are carrying the Ross Rifle.

Où:

The photograph was taken at a camp in Manitoba.

Quand:

Notes on the photograph indicate that it was taken in 1915.

Qui:

Look at the variety of ages and backgrounds reflected by these men. What they had in common was that all had volunteered for the C.E.F. The reasons were as varied as the men.

CTA-721
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives du Manitoba
Photographie
Sergent recruteur cherchant des volontaires à Toronto
1916, 20e siècle
CTA-721
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives du Manitoba

Clefs de l'histoire:

A soldier stands in an open touring car outside Toronto City Hall to persuade at least one more "good man" to leave the crowd and join up "For King and Country". It was an up-to-date mobile recruiting platform for one of the oldest appeals in human history. For any young man in the crowd, bored by his family or his job and easily shamed by suggestions of cowardice or even timidity, what could match the claims of actual heroic experience? Sending out recruiting sergeants was one of the oldest enlistment techniques in the history of warfare. In Toronto in 1916 a returned soldier was still a hero, to be emulated.

In 1916 Canada was struggling to meet the prime minister's New Year's Day challenge to recruit half a million soldiers for the First World War in Europe. This meeting was part of that effort. But scan the crowd for signs of eligible young men. By the summer of 1916, any young man who wanted to join up had already volunteered and any youngster who stood through a recruiting rally had either been refused several times before or was too fresh from the country to know what this kind of crowd symbolized.

Quoi:

In 1914 volunteers crowded to militia armouries to enlist, and battalions were formed for the Canadian Expeditionary Force with little effort. By late 1915 all sorts of recruiting techniques were necessary, from posters, pamphlets and advertisements to band concerts and parades. This is a photograph of a recruiting rally in downtown Toronto.

Où:

The site is the square outside Toronto's second City Hall at the head of Bay Street. Toronto, Canada's "Queen City", was second in population to Montreal but it was a far more homogeneous community, with over ninety per cent of its rural population linked to the British Isles. In addition to Toronto's own units, many C.E.F. battalions from Ontario hoped to fill up their ranks with Toronto recruits.

Quand:

The photograph was taken in the summer of 1916.

Qui:

The recruiter in the car is identified as J. W. Geddes. His Canadian-made uniform and his stiff peaked cap suggest that he may not be a returned soldier, but he is obviously a polished speaker. Toronto's mayor Tommy Church (in a straw boater) and Captain Rev. J. D. Morring wait their turn to add the arguments of politics and religion, while a Toronto policeman in a white helmet surveys the crowd for trouble-makers.

OA-S45043339
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives publiques de l'Ontario
Photographie
Un volontaire autochtone avec ses parents
1914-1918, 20e siècle
OA-S45043339
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives publiques de l'Ontario

Clefs de l'histoire:

In 1914 no one pretended that Native people were equal citizens of Canada or even First Nations with legitimate special claims. However, the military prowess of Native warriors made them eagerly sought recruits. Native leaders had mixed feelings. Their treaties, in their view, made them nations allied to the British King. If he wanted their support in his war with Germany, he should ask for it directly, and not through a self-important and interfering Indian Agent. Ottawa initially hesitated to disrupt a reserve life it hoped would turn Natives into peaceful, productive agriculturalists, but recruiting the C.E.F. soon took priority over everything. While officials wondered whether Germans would grant Native prisoners the protection of the Hague Conventions, they ignored misgivings and encouraged voluntary enlistment. What better advertisement for both the Empire and for Canadian Native policy than skilled Native scouts and snipers terrorizing the German enemy?

The Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs, poet Duncan Campbell Scott, urged his officials to promote a patriotic spirit among Native peoples and collected all the evidence he could for his annual reports. Faced with poverty and utter boredom on their reserves, young Natives were easily attracted. The death of Joseph Brant's descendant as a CEF officer at Ypres in 1915 persuaded the Iroquois Six Nations to boycott the war effort, but it proved a hard rule to enforce. On some reserves the disapproval of elders and their families held men back, but thousands of Native men enlisted. Like other Canadians they chafed at discipline, especially at the army's rejection of buckskin, amulets and charms and its emphasis on uniforms and neatness. As stereotypes suggested, Native soldiers thrived on outpost duty and as snipers, where supervision was minimal. Frank Pegahmabow attributed his three Military Medals and 368 German victims to the medicine bag he managed to carry with him throughout the war.

Quoi:

Like other parents, the older people weigh pride in their son's manly choice with their own worry that he may well be lost to them forever. The young man knows that he, too, will be going into a very unfamiliar world where his enemies may not only be limited to the Germans.

Où:

The photograph gives no details of the names or location of its subjects.

Quand:

The photograph gives no indication of a date.

Qui:

This unknown Native soldier stands with his aged parents outside the Indian Agent's house on his reserve in northern Ontario.

ANC-C95746
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Affiche
Vas-y! C'est ton devoir mon garçon : enrôle-toi dès aujourd'hui
1915, 20e siècle
ANC-C95746
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

The British believed that they could fill their army with volunteers because they always had. Conscription was a European institution. A Parliamentary Recruiting Committee supported local efforts by sponsoring the design and publication of suitable posters. This one, featuring a working-class mother reminding her son of his patriotic duty, was typical of many such appeals, and close to a million young men thronged recruiting centres and allowed a huge and unprecedented expansion of the British Army.

However, British casualties on the Western Front in 1914 and 1915 were enormous and volunteering, however popular, had limits. The demands of a wartime economy increased wages and attracted workers from the recruiting centres. By mid-1915 public hostility to so-called "slackers" was pressing the British government to consider conscripting young bachelors. Across the Atlantic, Canada was still attracting thousands of volunteers for its much smaller army, but British experience warned thoughtful officials to be careful.

Quoi:

In 1915 a widowed mother in Britain or Canada often depended on her son's earnings, as few working men earned enough to leave their families financially secure. Inviting a son to "go for a soldier" threatened a woman with economic insecurity and was, indeed, patriotic.

Où:

Like their British counterparts, Canadians in 1915 were accustomed to being reminded of their duty, and in wartime there was no doubt what they were invited to "JOIN TODAY".

Quand:

This poster from the Parliamentary Recruiting League was distributed in 1915; copies were sent to Canada for use in a different environment.

Qui:

Would a mother urge her son to sacrifice his life by joining the army? A recruiting poster tells her -- and him -- what patriotism demands. It's his duty, and hers.

ANC-C42420
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Affiche
Enrôlez-vous!
1916, 20e siècle
ANC-C42420
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

Most recruiting for the Canadian Expeditionary Force occurred spontaneously. Close to a million Canadians offered themselves, sometimes repeatedly. Local militia units competed to organize battalions of about a thousand men. Later, ambitious citizens offered themselves as colonels. Funds were contributed locally for advertising and to provide machine guns or field kitchens. The Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, revelled in the mood: it proved that Canadians were as devoted to the Empire as he was. After April 1915 the 6,000 casualties at Ypres meant no one could pretend that the war would be a short picnic in France. Yet after that tragedy almost 350,000 men (out of only 4 million men in the population) volunteered for war. Many echoed the sentiments of this poster. A new recruiting target of 150,000 men, set early in 1915, was raised to 250,000 men in October. Then, in his New Year's message for 1916, Sir Robert Borden pledged half a million Canadian soldiers to the British Empire.

Brilliant propaganda, masterminded by Sir Max Aitken, a Conservative member of Parliament and Canadian newspaper magnate in Britain, persuaded contemporaries and posterity alike that the Canadians had done brilliantly at Ypres. Despite losing half its men and considerable ground in the face of a German attack behind brutal shelling and poison gas, Sir John French, the British commander, praised the raw Canadians and told them they had "saved the situation". Others were more critical, but the positive spin gave Canada enormous pride. This poster appeals to Canadians' pride after their first battles of the 20th century.

Quoi:

This poster boasts of the names Canadians had already made famous by the end of April 1915 and invites volunteers to make their own names.

Où:

A cynic might note that Canadians had never been near Langemarck, had lost the village of Saint-Julien, had suffered a further 2,468 dead and wounded in a disastrous failure of an attack at Festubert on May 22-23, and another 366 casualties in a bungled attack at Givenchy on June 15th a month later.

Quand:

The battles named on the flag took place during April and May 1915. This poster was published early in 1916 as recruiting volunteers for the C.E.F. became increasingly urgent.

Qui:

C. J. Patterson, an illustrator, depicts a soldier wearing Canadian uniform, presumably a veteran of the battles at Ypres in April and May 1915, who invites recruits to add further names to their country's proud history.

ANC-C116588
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Affiche
Recrues demandées pour service outre-mer
1916, 20e siècle
ANC-C116588
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

Until 1917 the government insisted that recruiting for the Canadian Expeditionary Force would be so spontaneous that it need provide neither organization nor funds for the purpose. Eventually, Quebec became the exception. In 1916 Ottawa reluctantly appointed a chief recruiting officer, Colonel Arthur Mignault, and paid for staff and publicity. Operating behind a committee of volunteers, Mignault undertook a thankless and ultimately hopeless task. Cynics might argue that the slogan of the poster, "Canada appeals to the patriotism of its sons", is belied by the hard materialism of listing the pay and benefits of enlisting. However, the same information was just as keenly sought by recruits in English-speaking Canada.

As a private, a soldier earned $1.00 plus 10 cents field allowance a day, or $33.00 a month. He could send a Separation Allowance of $20 a month to his wife or his widowed mother, and the Canadian Patriotic Fund would add $10 a month for them as well as $7.50 for a child aged 10 to 15, $4.50 for a child aged 5 to 9 years and $3.00 for a child under 5. The whole family of two adults and three children could earn up to $78.00. If the soldier died, his wife or his widowed mother could count on a pension of $22 a month, with $5.00 for each child. Nowhere does the poster mention that half a soldier's basic pay or $15.00 had to be assigned to his wife or a family member before he could claim separation allowance.

Quoi:

This poster provides the practical information any recruit would need before entrusting his life to the C.E.F. How much will he earn and how will he support his family. In much smaller type is information about what his family may expect as a pension should he die. Note how it compares with their income while he is alive.

Où:

The rates cited for the family benefits from the Canadian Patriotic Fund (CPF) indicate that this poster was limited to Quebec. Families in western Canada, where the cost of living was much higher, received more, with wives or widowed mothers averaging $15-20 a month. These differences were sensitive, because most of the CPF's revenue came from Montreal, Toronto and other big eastern cities, whereas British Columbia and Manitoba produced more recruits.

Quand:

The pension rates cited date this poster to 1916. By 1919 inflation and democratic pressure had pushed pension rates for all ranks up to those paid to lieutenants. By 1920 Canada was paying totally disabled veterans with families the most generous pensions in the world.

Qui:

Though we tend to imagine soldiers as youthful feckless bachelors, data compiled after the war reveals that the average soldier in the C.E.F. was in his mid-to-late twenties, and more often a skilled urban worker than a farmer or cowboy. Many had family responsibilities as husbands and fathers or as the sole support of a widowed mother.

OA-S15042
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives publiques de l'Ontario
Photographie
Acton et son district doivent fournir 100 hommes
Vers 1915, 20e siècle
OA-S15042
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives publiques de l'Ontario

Clefs de l'histoire:

This is a rare picture of recruiting in 1915, when the government left the job of finding soldiers entirely to local initiative. The 164th Halton Battalion was organized from Milton at the northern end of Ontario's Halton county, a rural district between Toronto, Hamilton and Guelph. Most of these posters were created in Great Britain under the auspices of the Parliamentary Committee for Recruiting. Hundreds of sets were shipped to Canada on the assumption that arguments that worked in Great Britain would also work in much of Canada, especially in a town like Acton, Ontario. In rural areas it was harder to find volunteers. Farms were labour-intensive and cash-poor. A farmer needed his sons for the hard work of seeding, cultivation and harvesting, especially when wartime scarcity raised demand and prices. At the same time, farm boys, inured to uncomplaining work out of doors, made prime soldiers.

Many of the posters distinguish between big bold talk and taking action. In 1914 all sorts of people promised to enlist if they were really needed, or when their present job was done, or after the harvest. The war was not over by Christmas 1914, and loyal talk had not defeated the German Kaiser, the huge German armaments company Krupp, or Germany's militaristic Kultur. To find a thousand volunteers for the 164th Battalion, Acton and the surrounding district was assigned a quota of a hundred volunteers.

Quoi:

To recruit Canada's huge commitment of men for the British Empire's war effort, the Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, insisted on local initiative. Local militia regiments and citizens' committees raised the money for advertising and facilities. Patriotism and community pressure combined to cover costs and to press men to enlist. This is what it looked like in a small English-speaking Ontario town.

Où:

Someone has made available a makeshift, somewhat shabby shop in the little rural town of Acton in northern Halton County as a recruiting centre for the latest C.E.F. battalion to be organized in the region.

Quand:

The 164th Battalion was authorized in 1915. With wet pavement and signs of snow on the ground, this picture was probably taken towards the end of that year.

Qui:

The sad little graph in the window tells the key story. "Make This Grow" says the sign, but winter is coming and of Acton's quota of one hundred volunteers only ten men have come forward. The 164th Battalion was to recruit only 710 soldiers, three-quarters of its target.

PERS-08
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée
Impression - caricature
Borden, le Canada et l'Empire
1912, 20e siècle
PERS-08
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée

Clefs de l'histoire:

This Conservative cartoon from 1912 may have been unfair to the Liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier and damaging to his Reciprocity trade deal with the United States, but it was accurate about how the Tory prime minister, Robert Borden, envisaged relations between Britain and Canada. While the cartoon wants to persuade you that Laurier's proposed Reciprocity Agreement with the United States would have led to American domination of Canada, the Conservatives' plan to enlarge the Royal Navy reflected a mature Canada playing a vigorous role in Britain's empire. Borden was proud of being both British and Canadian. He knew that Canada lacked Britain's wealth, power and military strength, but he expected Canada to grow to equality. Rather than develop a Canadian navy, he proposed to pay $8 million to buy three dreadnought-class battleships as a contribution to Britain's naval construction race with Germany.

When war came in 1914, Borden organized Canada's war effort so as to bolster a claim to a direct Canadian voice in Imperial affairs. In future, he told the British in 1915, Canada and the other Dominions would expect a share in decisions to go to war.

Quoi:

Playing on Canadian fears of American domination had been an effective strategy in the 1911 general election. Laurier's Liberals now portrayed the Tories as submissive colonials responding to Britain's desires.

Où:

The maritime image made sense because the issue was Conservative support for Britain's Navy contrasted with Liberal support for reciprocal free trade with a dominant neighbour.

Quand:

The naval debate played out in Canada in 1912 and ended only after a Liberal-dominated Senate defeated Naval Aid legislation forced through the House of Commons by the first use of closure.

Qui:

The cartoon shows two rowboats, the upper one crewed by the Canadian prime minister, Robert Borden and a more powerful "John Bull" (a cartoonist's depiction of England), while the other features Liberal leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier as a little girl dominated by "Uncle Sam", the symbolic United States.

ANC-PA28128
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
Le très honorable Sir Robert Laird Borden, premier ministre du Canada
Mars 1918, 20e siècle
ANC-PA28128
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

More than most Canadians Sir Robert Borden, a Nova Scotian Conservative and prime minister since 1911, believed in Canada's close, loyal and equal status within the British Empire. War in 1914 was a challenge to Canadians to do their utmost. In August 1915 Borden finally visited Britain. He was appalled. British ministers were on holiday, many of them shooting grouse in Scotland. Only one, David Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions, was hard at work. Apart from him Britain's wartime government lacked Borden's most prized virtue: "earnestness". That meant effort wasted and what was worse, young lives needlessly lost. He saw the waste, since he spent every spare minute visiting the hospital wards with their terrible human wreckage.

Borden could say nothing of his awful discovery without destroying morale. What could he do? He returned to Canada dismayed but dedicated. Immediately he boosted the country's commitment of soldiers to 250,000, a goal that would easily be met and aroused little interest. He thought harder. In 1916 the British would begin conscription. What Canada had that the British already lacked was manpower. In his New Year's statement on January 1st,1916, Borden would stretch Canada's war effort to breaking point. Out of only eight million Canadians, half a million would become soldiers. No British dominion could do more!

Quoi:

Patriotic speeches were cheap in 1914, but Borden usually meant what he said and he went out of his way to meet the men who had suffered in the war, the wounded in hospitals. He said they strengthened his will to fight the war to the end. Many other Canadians lost interest in the war and wanted it over. In Borden's view, they were not "earnest".

Où:

Borden had been an anti-Confederate as a young man and was converted by the emotion of seeing men from his province going west to fight Riel in 1885. His Halifax Program in 1906 called for honest, efficient government, and an end to patronage and political favours. Once free of his old Conservative party in 1917, he actually implemented many of the reforms he had wanted.

Quand:

Borden made his pledge of 500,000 men at the start of 1916, the year in which many believed that the British would finally win the war. They were wrong. It would last until November 1918.

Qui:

Borden was a big, stolid, seemingly unemotional man whose hair and moustache went white during the wartime years. A poor boy, he educated himself from his earnings as a teacher, became one of Nova Scotia's most respected lawyers, entered politics and became Conservative leader in 1900.

ANC-PA0880
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
Sir Robert Borden discutant avec des blessés à la base hospitalière
Mars 1917, 20e siècle
ANC-PA0880
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

When he visited England in the summer of 1915, Sir Robert Borden spent every spare moment visiting Canadian wounded. It was no pro forma visit: he stopped and talked to each man in the long hospital wards, carefully noting requests and addresses of families and friends he would contact on his return. When he fumed at the lack of purpose of his British government colleagues, he thought again of the young Canadians who had risked everything in the war and who would never fully recover. When he campaigned for more soldiers, he thought of the young men in hospital who would return to the trenches to die if more men were not forthcoming -- as volunteers or as conscripts. In the hospitals, Borden saw what no one back in Canada would ever see, and the sight made an earnest man stubborn enough to risk his career and his political party for their sake.

The Prime Minister believed that it was his duty to visit wounded soldiers because he felt personally responsible for the decisions that had sent Canadian troops to France in the Great War, and he wanted to see with his own eyes the treatment they were receiving. Since their relatives could not visit them, he accepted a special obligation. In the Second World War Canada's prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, made a point of not visiting military hospitals. A politician who did so, in King's view, could easily have his judgement warped. Imagine putting wounded soldiers ahead of other voters!

Quoi:

If wounded soldiers recovered sufficiently to serve again, as most did, they trained at convalescent depots until they were physically fit and then returned to their unit in France to resume their duties and the risk of death and fresh wounds. Was it fair that men who had suffered should run fresh risks while other young men stayed safely in Canada?

Où:

The hospital and the soldiers are not identified, but it is probably in northern France.

Quand:

This photograph was probably taken in 1917 during Borden's visit to the Front.

Qui:

Sir Robert Borden visits two wounded Canadian soldiers during a visit to France in 1917.

ANC-C7525
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
L'hon. David Lloyd George
20e siècle
ANC-C7525
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

When Borden visited England in the summer of 1915, the one British cabinet minister who impressed him was David Lloyd George. This was surprising. Apart from childhood poverty the two men had little in common. Borden was a progressive Conservative who believed that government could be efficient and creative, but Lloyd George, a former solicitor from Wales, had opposed British imperialism and the Boer War, sometimes in the face of mob violence. As a Liberal minister he had been the chief architect of Britain's pioneering social insurance schemes and a foe of the House of Lords. In 1914 some had wondered whether he would support the war.

Once the war came, however, he threw his energy into winning a victory, much like Borden in Canada. When a desperate lack of artillery shells crippled the British army and brought down Herbert Asquith's Liberal government, Lloyd George became a dynamic, effective Minister of Munitions, scrapping traditional methods and forcing the pace of production, even in Canada, where a British-sponsored Imperial Munitions replaced an inefficient, self-promoting Shell Committee. Borden had found a fellow spirit who shared his earnestness about the war. He was delighted when a parliamentary coup, stage-managed by two Canadian M.Ps. in the British Parliament, Andrew Bonar-Law and Max Aitken, forced out Asquith and installed Lloyd George as Prime Minister in December, 1916.

Borden's manpower commitment was a conscious bid for respect and consultation within a British Empire accustomed to governing exclusively from Whitehall in downtown London. Lloyd George probably had little idea of the forces he was unleashing when he called the Dominions to British councils.

Quoi:

When Robert Borden committed Canada to find half a million soldiers for the first World War, he was responding to the depth of commitment Britain's Minister of Munitions was demonstrating in an otherwise lack-lustre British government.

Où:

Managing the British Empire with representatives from around the world imposed great problems when each prime minister had a home government to manage on the other side of the world. When Borden was in London, almost every decision in Ottawa awaited his return.

Quand:

Only after Lloyd George became Prime Minister at the end of 1916 would Borden begin to achieve the level of consultation he believed Canada had earned by its huge commitment of men and resources. Lloyd George turned to Dominion leaders like Borden and South Africa's Jan Smuts as reinforcements in his struggle to mobilize his British colleagues.

Qui:

As British prime minister, David Lloyd George was the political leader of an Empire which had never elected him to Parliament and which had had no voice in his appointment as Prime Minister (though a couple of Canadians had played a key role in his rise).

PERS-09
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée
Extrait de journal
Cinq cents mille hommes? / La grande contribution du Canada à la cause de l'Empire britannique
Janvier 1916, 20e siècle
PERS-09
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée

Clefs de l'histoire:

How did Canadian newspapers report Sir Robert Borden's New Year message in 1916? Toronto's Globe, the flagship paper for Borden's Liberal opponents but strongly pro-war in its attitude, gave the story maximum coverage, with all three headlines and almost half of the top half of the front page of its New Year's Day paper. It was all a Conservative prime minister could have wished in a gesture he had directed at Great Britain as much as at Canadians.

In 1916 Montreal's Le Devoir did not publish on Saturdays, so, its report and its comments on the prime minister's statement were reserved for the editorial page on the following Monday. Its publisher, Henri Bourassa, had supported Borden in 1911 because, he claimed, Sir Wilfrid Laurier had become too British for him. By 1916 it was Sir Robert who fell under that condemnation. If the Prime Minister was trying to pretend to the British that Canadians were united in their war effort, he and they would soon learn the truth.

Quoi:

What is the balance of fact and opinion on the Globe's front page? How much hard information comes out of the opening paragraphs of Le Devoir ?

Où:

Newspapers in 1916 bore a considerable resemblance to each other, with their titles planted squarely at the top of the first fold and lines of stories underneath. In some, page-wide headlines led stories laid out below; in others the stories jostled each other in adjoining columns under the masthead.

Quand:

In 1916 New Year's Day fell on a Saturday. Larger newspapers published six times a week but smaller papers like Le Devoir closed down for the weekend.

Qui:

Many Canadians learned of the Prime Minister's commitment of half a million men to Canada's overseas army in newspapers such as The Globe and Le Devoir.

ANC-C95744
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Affiche
150 conducteurs de chevaux pour la 57e Batterie d'artillerie
1916, 20e siècle
ANC-C95744
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

Armies in 1914-1918 included more than infantry. Artillerymen dragged heavy guns into place and fired shrapnel and explosive shells at the enemy, causing more casualties than any other weapons, including machine guns. Engineers built roads, railways and fortifications. Miners were recruited to tunnel under the enemy trenches. Army Service Corps troops delivered food, ammunition and fuel, members of the Medical Corps evacuated and treated the sick and wounded. Cavalry tended their horses and waited to exploit the big breakthrough. When it did not come, they attacked anyway. Thousands of specialists had to be recruited and trained for Canada's overseas army.

Major Thomas Vien's horse-drawn battery needed drivers as well as gunners. Harnessing, driving and caring for the team of six horses needed to haul an 18-pounder field gun through deep mud was no job for amateurs nor for the faint of heart. Artillery served behind the trench lines, but they and their guns were prime targets for enemy artillery. On hot days, when gunners worked stripped to the waist, the gun lines were also a target for poison gas. Mustard gas burned a soldier's lungs and left agonizing blisters, especially where the skin was wet with sweat.

Quoi:

This poster tells its Quebec City readers that this may be their only chance to serve with other French-Canadians in the artillery. The crossed British and French flags remind potential recruits that they will be fighting for both of Quebec City's imperial parents, though neither Britain nor France's Third Republic were very popular in Quebec before or during the war years.

Où:

In choosing Quebec City to recruit his battery, Major Vien was well aware that the "old capital" had a long military heritage as a French, British and Canadian garrison town. The first unit formed for the Canadian volunteer militia in 1855 was an artillery battery in Quebec City, and after 1871 most of the Canadian Militia's gunners learned their skills under professional instructors at the Citadel.

Quand:

The poster appeared in 1916. Major Vien did not find all of the wanted volunteers, and his 57th Battery was not completed.

Qui:

Major Vien is looking for drivers for a French-speaking artillery battery. They must be able to handle one of the three pairs of horses that haul his guns or one of the two pairs normally needed to pull a two-wheeled limber loaded with artillery shells.

PCA-11051916
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Extrait de journal
Trois questions pour les femmes du comté de Peel
11 mai 1916, 20e siècle
PCA-11051916
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

In early-20th-century Canada the family was the key economic unit. Its men (and its boys as soon as they could earn) supplied the money, while the women (and girls as soon as they could help) maintained the home and raised the children. Losing a man to the army or to death (or to both) was an economic as well as an emotional blow. In 1914 Sir Sam Hughes insisted that a volunteer must have his wife's permission to enlist. That ended in the summer of 1915, but were women discouraging sons or husbands from enlisting?

This advertisement in a small town newspaper near Toronto tries to provide questions and arguments that patriotic citizens can use to pressure women to release their menfolk.

Quoi:

The 234th Battalion was the third unit to seek recruits from Peel County, a region of farms and market gardens just west of Toronto and its suburbs. It secured 438 recruits, more than some other units but less than half of the thousand men it needed to proceed overseas.

Où:

Though described as "Peel's Pride" and "Your Own Battalion" to appeal to county loyalty, the 234th Battalion had to be housed in "Ravina Barracks", an abandoned school in the west end of Toronto.

Quand:

The advertisement appeared in the May 11, 1916 issue of the Streetsville Review and Port Credit Herald, a local newspaper for two towns and other farming communities in the southern part of Peel County.

Qui:

Recruiters believed that wives or mothers encouraged their men to stay home in safety where they could earn more than the government chose to pay its soldiers. Instead of arguing that such women could enjoy financial security, the advertisement appeals to their patriotic power to add another soldier to the cause of King and country.

PERS-10
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée
Impression - caricature
L'esprit de leurs ancêtres
25 septembre 1915, 20e siècle
PERS-10
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée

Clefs de l'histoire:

On September 15, 1916 Canadians launched a new phase of the summer-long Battle of the Somme. Two divisions attacked near Courcelette and, at heavy cost, made respectable gains. Among the leading units was the French-speaking 22nd Battalion. At a cost of half its strength, it advanced and held its gains against heavy German counter attacks. Describing the battle later, Lt. Col. Thomas Tremblay said that if Hell was like that battle, he would not wish it on his worst enemy.

French-Canadian heroism was widely publicised in the rest of Canada and the Brantford Expositor, a daily newspaper in the small Ontario city, celebrated the "Vandoos" in a cartoon by Montreal artist A. G. Racey entitled "The Spirit of their Forefathers". Many English-speaking Canadians were already worried that French-speaking Quebeckers did not share their commitment to the Great War. The cartoon, by a celebrated Montreal artist, reminded Canadians that some French Canadians courageously shared the sacrifices of the Empire's war.

Quoi:

Racey's cartoon was a reminder that despite the well-publicised attacks on the war and Canada's war effort from Quebec nationalistes, French-speaking soldiers were a valiant element in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Où:

When it appeared in the Brantford Expositor, the cartoon would be seen in an almost wholly English-speaking, largely Protestant community best known for its large nearby Mohawk reserve.

Quand:

The cartoon appeared on September 25, 1916, ten days after the attack on Courcelette, at a time when newspapers were still full of accounts of the battle and reports of the heavy losses.

Qui:

Arthur George Racey, was an English-born, Montreal-based artist and a prolific caricaturist. His drawing of a soldier dashing over the ruins was generic. Racey could not know that Canadian soldiers on the Somme were finally wearing the wash-basin helmets that became iconic symbols of First World War soldiering.

ANC-C95733
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Affiche
Tous les vrais Poil-aux-Pattes s'enrôlent au 163e
Vers 1916, 20e siècle
ANC-C95733
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

Olivar Asselin was an outspoken Montreal journalist, a nationaliste and an ardent follower of Henri Bourassa. However Asselin saw little wrong with a secular France and he yearned to defend it from German invaders. Initially Bourassa had agreed, hoping that Canadians would unite in a common cause, as had the French in August 1914. It was not to be. Ontario persecuted its French-speaking minority and Bourassa became an outspoken opponent of the war. Learning of Asselin's feelings, the Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, offered Asselin command of any battalion he could raise. Asselin agreed to be second in command to Henri Desrosiers, a veteran of the First Contingent. The 163rd Battalion was launched at Montreal's Monument national on January 21, 1916.

Asselin worked tirelessly to find good recruits, scorning the drunks and dead-beats rival units accepted. He appealed for "Poils-aux-Pattes", literally "Hairy Paws", as young men of quality in Quebec society called themselves. By February Asselin had selected 336 men, and by April 1916 he was close to his target with 974 soldiers. He got little help from Sam Hughes. In May his men were forced to share barracks with the 206th Battalion, one of the worst in the C.E.F. Asselin demanded a change of location and Hughes shipped the battalion to the British colony of Bermuda. A quarter of Asselin's men deserted in disgust -- to be replaced from the 206th Battalion. Lacking experienced officers and training areas, the 163rd was still untrained when it reached England in December 1916. Like others, Asselin's unit was broken up. He joined the 22nd Battalion as an over-age, very discontent lieutenant. His critics in Quebec rejoiced at the fate of the Poils- aux-Pattes.

Quoi:

The recruiting poster for Asselin's battalion stresses that this will be an elite unit with battle-hardened officers. A bearded French soldier or poilu welcomes his hairy-pawed French-Canadian volunteers to the fray. "The drum beats, the trumpet sounds. Who stays behind? No one. This is a people who defend themselves. Forward march!"

Où:

Asselin recruited soldiers in competition with Lt. Col. Hercule Barré's 150th Battalion, based on the 65th Carabiniers de Mont-Royal, and with Alderman Tancrède Pagnuelo's pathetic 206th Battalion, the worst unit in the C.E.F.

Quand:

By early 1916 any Canadian who wanted to enlist had signed up. Jobs in Montreal munition factories paid more than than a soldier's $1.10 a day. Faith in early victory dissolved after July 1, 1916, when the British lost 60,000 dead and wounded in a single day.

Qui:

Only one of the 48 battalions in the Canadian Corps in France, the 22nd Battalion, plus a company in the 14th Battalion, were French-speaking. Though Asselin deferred to his chosen commanding officer, Lt. Col. Henri DesRosiers, with a prominent nationaliste to spearhead recruiting, surely French Canadians would rally to the defence of France, as British-Canadians rallied to Britain.

ANC-C95386
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Affiche
Bûcherons et ouvriers de scieries demandés
Vers 1916, 20e siècle
ANC-C95386
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

By the summer of 1916 volunteer recruiting had dried up across Canada. Despite the best efforts of colonels, committees and newspaper proprietors, only a trickle of men showed up to enlist. Scores of battalions fell far short of the authorized strength of over a thousand men.

Yet the war was not over. In fact, for Britain and her allies it was entering a desperate phase. The French Army had been bled white trying to defend Verdun. British troops had sacrificed themselves to gain a few miles in the Somme Offensive. Worse, Russia's huge armies were dissolving in the face of German attacks, and by early 1917 the largest of the allies would be defeated. Germany also warned that she would use her dreaded unterseebooten or submarines to sink every ship bringing passengers or cargo to Britain or France.

In this crisis Canada could help. Rather than import lumber, France and Britain could cut down their own forests and Canadian loggers could help. Instead of soldiers for the Western Front, colonels turned to Canada's huge lumber industry to raise battalions for the Canadian Forestry Corps. Other battalions recruited railway workers to build and staff the light railways that carried munitions up to the trenches and brought back wounded. By the end of the war almost 20,000 members of the Corps of Canadian Railway Troops or CRT, with 22,000 members of the Canadian Forestry Corps, were turning trees into timber for the Allied war effort. Most of the men were older than the C.E.F. average and had been turned down for service. Now, by using their job experience, they could help meet Canada's promise of half a million.

Quoi:

Thick timber made bomb-proof dugouts in the trenches and behind the lines. Timber ties connected the rails that brought up train-loads of supplies. Older men, rejected for service in the line, could bring their special Canadian skills to the forests of Scotland or the Jura region of France.

Où:

The 238th Battalion recruited most of its men from the Quebec side of the Ottawa river. At a time when other battalions were lucky to find a few hundred men, Colonel Smyth enlisted 1,081 volunteers for his battalion.

Quand:

The 238th Battalion was organized on July 15, 1916 and went overseas in the autumn.

Qui:

As members of the Canadian Forestry Corps, members of the 238th Battalion were enlisted soldiers but they were not expected to fight. Originally they had been promised extra pay for their skills, but that was cancelled as an economy measure, and because they ran fewer risks than other soldiers the Patriotic Fund refused to subsidize their families when they were overseas.

ANC-C6846
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
Cabinet impérial de la guerre
1er mai 1917, 20e siècle
ANC-C6846
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

A year after Borden's New Year's announcement there had been terrible losses in France and a change of government in Britain, largely engineered by two Canadians, Max Aitken and Arthur Bonar Law. In March 1917 Canada's prime minister joined Dominion colleagues and British ministers in an Imperial War Cabinet. "If we want their men", the new prime minister David Lloyd George told his new adviser Colonel Maurice Hankey, "we must call them to our councils." And he did.

It took a further year of terrible losses at Arras and in the Passchendaele offensive before the British leaders told the Dominion premiers the full truth about the war and listened to their advice. In fact, the experiment was unworkable. Dominion advice led chiefly to involvement in Russia's civil war, while Dominion premiers like Borden could not act as prime ministers when they were far away in London. Nor, when they reckoned up the full cost of the war, would Canadians willingly bear the apparent burdens of a world-wide Empire. Experience backed full sovereignty for Canada and other Dominions, not the imperial federation that had been Borden's dream in 1914.

Quoi:

Never before had leaders from the self-governing colonies been present at a meeting of the British cabinet -- but never before had their support been as vital.

Où:

The photo was taken in the garden behind No. 10 Downing Street in London, the official residence of the British prime minister.

Quand:

The photograph was taken in March or April, 1917.

Qui:

The British prime minister, David Lloyd George, sits between two Canadians at the Imperial War cabinet in 1917. Arthur Bonar-Law, a New Brunswicker who headed the British Conservative party, is on his right, and Sir Robert Borden, the Nova Scotian who headed Canada's government, is on his left. They are surrounded by other British and Dominion leaders and the prime minister's staff.

ANC-C6859
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Photographie
Défilé anti-conscription au square Victoria
Mai 1917, 20e siècle
ANC-C6859
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

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.

Quoi:

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.

Où:

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.

Quand:

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.

Qui:

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

ANC-C93223
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada
Prospectus
Néron « jouant du violon » aux politiciens pendant que les flammes se propagent
1917, 20e siècle
ANC-C93223
Cet artefact appartient à : © Archives nationales du Canada

Clefs de l'histoire:

During the war years Sir Wilfrid Laurier had good reason to hope that voters would repent their decision of 1911 and restore him and his Liberals to power. The Conservative victory had coincided with a deep Depression, mass bankruptcy and unemployment and now a war, corruption in handling war contracts, inadequate recruiting and general ineptitude. The government, in contrast, believed that it had done as well as possible, better than Britain's Liberal government, which at the end of 1916 was toppled by a parliamentary coup. British M.Ps chose a "Win the War" coalition of able Tories and Liberals headed by David Lloyd George. Canada's Robert Borden would do the same if he succeeded in finding "Win the War" Liberals.

Conscription, to meet his proclaimed target of half a million Canadian soldiers, gave Borden what he wanted. Laurier shared Quebec's angry hostility and he certainly did not want his province led by a nationaliste like Henri Bourassa. Some Liberals agreed. Many in English Canada did not, especially in provinces west of Quebec. When the Conservative majority changed the election laws in 1917 to give votes to pro-war women and take them from recent citizens from enemy lands, more Liberals saw the futility of fighting and switched. The result was Borden's Union government of 1917, a general election, and a big defeat for Laurier and the Liberals in English-speaking regions of Canada.

Quoi:

The Roman emperor Nero, persecutor of Christians, allegedly amused himself with music while his capital, Rome, burned in 62 AD. In 1917, after Germany defeated Russia, the Allied cause was in serious danger. Was Laurier merely playing politics while the danger grew?

Où:

The Fiddler was a wartime pamphlet published in Britain by children's writer Arthur Mee. The pamphlet denounced British leaders for allowing booze and prostitutes to corrupt innocent Imperial soldiers in Britain. It was suppressed in Canada and became famous.

Quand:

Advertising and cartoons on this theme, often even more insulting to Laurier's patriotism, appeared during Canada's 1917 General Election campaign. It ended on December 17 with a Unionist victory.

Qui:

Union Government supporters expect readers to recognize the popular reference to a cruel, dissolute and inept Emperor in popular versions of Roman history.

PERS-12
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée
Extrait de journal
Cinq civils sont tués par les soldats à Québec
2 avril 1918
PERS-12
Cet artefact appartient à : Collection privée

Clefs de l'histoire:

In Quebec City during the Easter weekend of 1918, angry opposition to conscription led to riots and a significant loss of life. After Canadian military police arrested a man of military age in civilian clothes because he had no certificate of exemption, angry mobs attacked and burned the Military Service Act offices in the city and destroyed the records. Then they turned on English-owned buildings in downtown Quebec. Local police seemed powerless to intervene, and the military authorities summoned reinforcements from Toronto.

The Ontario soldiers, English-speaking and unfamiliar with Quebec, deployed through the city. In the narrow streets of working-class Saint-Roch they encountered hostile crowds armed with snowballs, pieces of ice, rocks and chunks of brick and pavement. La Presse claimed that a civilian fired first. When frightened soldiers returned the fire, they left five dead and many more wounded.

The deaths horrified religious and political authorities in both Quebec and Ottawa. Church officials commanded obedience to a legitimate, if unpopular, law. Sir Robert Borden acknowledged Quebec's prime minister, Sir Lomer Gouin, as his advisor and lieutenant in the province for the rest of the war. When rioting ceased after Easter Monday, even La Presse hinted that "bien pensant" Quebeckers had disapproved of mob rule but allowed it to continue until a violent clash was inevitable. Others insisted that it was all the fault of the troops and of those who had summoned them.

Quoi:

The front page of Montreal's La Presse on Tuesday, April 2, 1918, the day after the most bloody riot in modern Quebec history. Since the deaths occurred at night, the illustrations are limited to stock photos of Saint-Roch and rue Saint-Joseph where the tragedy took place.

Où:

The commanding officer during the Easter weekend riot, General François Lessard, was born and raised in Quebec. He went to live out his retirement years at Meadowvale, a country village near Toronto.

Quand:

Though the rioting broke out on the Easter weekend and continued for two days, the killings occurred after dark on Easter Monday, April 1, 1918.

Qui:

The newspaper mixes reporting of the events with a background account of what had happened in the preceding riots and destruction and warnings from civil and military authorities that rioting would be suppressed, whatever the cost. The warning came from an anonymous but "very senior" officer who was, in fact, Major-General François Lessard, summoned from Halifax and Canada's senior French-speaking military commander.

Conclusion:

Most recruiting in Canada for the First World War happened spontaneously. Almost a million Canadians offered themselves, some many times. Local militia regiments competed by organizing battalions of about a thousand men. Ambitious patriots offered themselves as colonels. Cities and counties raised funds to pay for advertising and posters and to buy machine guns or field kitchens. Not until 1916 did Ottawa spend money on recruiting, and then only in Quebec where volunteering lagged.

The strains of the first year of the war were far surpassed by those of later years. Canada emerged from the Great War with 60,000 dead and as many permanently maimed in mind or body. Tens of thousands became widows and orphans. Canada's national finances teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. The fragile partnership of French and English came close to collapse. The patriotic Imperial sentiments of 1914 were mocked by the pain, bitterness and disillusionment. How did so much heroism and sacrifice end in such sadness?


© Musée McCord Museum