Canadian Geographic
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Forged in war

World War I, 1914-1918

In 1914 Canada, as part of the British Empire, went to war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By 1918 the Canadian army had become an independent fighting unit, and in 1919 Canada insisted on signing the Versailles peace treaty on its own behalf. A growing sense of independent nationhood, fostered by battlefield victories and enormous casualties, was one critical consequence of the Great War. (In 1931, Britain passed the Statute of Westminster, giving Canada the legal status of an independent country. Still, Canada remained a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and British foreign policy continued to influence Ottawa.)

War memorials in almost every city, town, and hamlet recorded the devastating local impact of this overseas conflict. Other lasting effects of the war included a larger federal bureaucracy resulting from new social responsibility for veterans and war widows, precedent-setting revenue generation through income and other taxes, and a growing public debt. Female participation in the home-front war effort contributed to federal legislation on women’s suffrage during the war.

All regions contributed manpower to the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), which received basic training at some sixty centres across Canada before going overseas. The needs of modern machine warfare created a wartime manufacturing effort, which used the existing expertise and infrastructure in Central Canada and thus reinforced the favoured position of this area. Varying regional contributions to the war effort were also evident in the Victory Loan and Canadian Patriotic Fund campaigns. In 1917 the conscription issue revealed deep divisions within Canada: many French Canadians regarded the struggle in Europe as a British and imperial war rather than a defence of Canada; western Canadian farmers objected to conscription taking away necessary farm labourers; and union leaders argued that ‘equality’ of sacrifice should involve the conscription of wealth as well as manpower. The War Measures Act, which was enacted during the early enthusiasm for the war, allowed for the disenfranchisement, denial of civil rights, and often internment of ‘enemy aliens’ and radicals.


This interactive map and legend illustrates the rates of enlistment amongst males for the Great War. Users can also learn about casualty rates and military installations by selecting certain items in the legend.


On the next page:

World War II, 1939-1945

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Quiz :

What war caused the deportation of Acadians beginning in 1755?

First World War
Battle for Quebec
Seven Years' War