A Many-Lay­ered Legacy


Canada's History - - CONTENTS - By Tim Cook

The im­pacts of the First World War con­tinue to be felt to­day, a cen­tury after the armistice.

While the guns fell silent on the Western Front at eleven o’clock on Novem­ber 11, 1918, the echo of the war’s long scream has re­ver­ber­ated to the present. One hun­dred years later, we can still see the First World War’s legacy through­out Cana­dian so­ci­ety.

No Cana­dian went to war in Au­gust 1914 in or­der to see Canada step out of Bri­tain’s shadow, for the gov­ern­ment to en­act in­come tax or to en­fran­chise women, to drive for an emerg­ing Cana­dian iden­tity, or for one of the many other out­comes that oc­curred dur­ing or after the four long years of con­flict. Yet those lega­cies and more can be traced back to the war, which, like most con­flicts, had un­in­tended con­se­quences. The war that is ex­pected is rarely the one that is ex­pe­ri­enced.

To ex­am­ine the legacy of the war is to un­tan­gle many con­tra­dic­tions, in­clud­ing the unity and divi­sion it pro­duced, along with in­tense feel­ings of pa­tri­o­tism and loss. There is a com­plex­ity that must be ac­knowl­edged in any at­tempt to un­ravel the in­ter­twined threads of con­se­quences.

The legacy of Canada’s Great War has af­fected the very so­cial fab­ric of the coun­try as well as what it means to be Cana­dian.


Wartime Prime Min­is­ter Sir Robert Bor­den wrote in his di­ary on Novem­ber 11, 1918, “The world has drifted from its old an­chor­age and no man can with cer­tainty proph­esy what the out­come will be.” By the con­flict’s end Canada was in­deed for­ever changed by the strug­gle and strain, and, over the last cen­tury, the coun­try and its peo­ple have grap­pled to make sense of the war’s long reach.

The First World War was the largest, most in­tri­cate, and most with­er­ingly dif­fi­cult thing the young coun­try Canada had done up to that point. The Do­min­ion was mo­bi­lized for a war over­seas in Au­gust 1914, when it had nei­ther any wartime in­dus­try nor an army from which to draw, other than three thou­sand pro­fes­sional sol­diers. Yet in rapid time Cana­di­ans were roused to the ur­gency, as the over­seas war of at­tri­tion de­manded an all-en­com­pass­ing, ul­ti­mately nearly un­lim­ited, war ef­fort. In the end, more than 630,000 men en­listed or were con­scripted — about one in three adult males — along with sev­eral thou­sand women serv­ing as nurses or as med­i­cal as­sis­tants known as VADs for the Bri­tish Vol­un­tary Aid De­tach­ment in which they served.

The Cana­dian Corps on the Western Front, one hun­dred thou­sand strong by the end of 1916, fought within the Bri­tish over­seas armies, but it had its own sym­bols, such as the maple leaf, its own iden­ti­fi­able units, its own of­fi­cers, and, later in the war, its own se­nior com­man­der.

The corps earned a fierce rep­u­ta­tion, start­ing with the de­fence against over­whelm­ing Ger­man forces and chlo­rine gas at the Bat­tle of Sec­ond Ypres in Bel­gium in April 1915; fight­ing hard at the bat­tles of Mount Sor­rel in Bel­gium and the Somme in France in 1916; and in the string of vic­to­ries, first in France at Vimy Ridge in April 1917, and at Hill 70 in Au­gust, fol­lowed by Passchendaele in Bel­gium at the end of that year.

The Hun­dred Days cam­paign, start­ing in Au­gust 1918, saw the Cana­dian Corps spear­head cru­cial bat­tles at Amiens, Ar­ras, Cam­brai, and Va­len­ci­ennes in France, and at Mons, Bel­gium. Through­out the war, the Cana­di­ans paid a ter­ri­ble price for be­ing ac­knowl­edged shock troops, thrown into bat­tle after bat­tle as an at­tack for­ma­tion, with even­tu­ally some sixty-six thou­sand Cana­di­ans be­ing killed or dy­ing of their wounds.

While much of the coun­try’s fo­cus was on rais­ing an over­seas force for com­bat on the Western Front, Cana­di­ans also sup­ported the war ef­fort from home. In the Do­min­ion of about eight mil­lion peo­ple, there were no mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries be­fore Au­gust 1914; but the need to feed the maw of war led to some 250,000 Cana­di­ans en­ter­ing the work­force in hun­dreds of new com­pa­nies. By 1917, more than a quar­ter of all shells fired by the Bri­tish forces on the Western Front were made in Canada. Equally im­por­tant was food pro­duc­tion, with farm­ers send­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of bushels of wheat and other sup­plies to Bri­tain, an ab­so­lutely vi­tal as­pect of Canada’s war ef­fort.

But with no end to the de­mands for men and matériel, the coun­try was pushed to the brink. When vol­un­tary re­cruit­ing failed to bring in enough sol­diers by late 1916, Bor­den was pres­sured to en­act con­scrip­tion, as Bri­tain had done. He wor­ried about the ef­fect on unity, but his heart was with the sol­diers over­seas, many of whom he vis­ited in hos­pi­tals. Young boys and men tried to stand or even to sit up to greet him, their bro­ken bod­ies an in­di­ca­tion of the aw­ful­ness of in­dus­trial war­fare. Bor­den was out­raged to learn that the short­ages of sol­diers re­quired that they be sent back to the line, some­times be­fore they had even healed.

In May 1917, Bor­den promised con­scrip­tion. The vi­o­lent po­lit­i­cal de­bate that fol­lowed pit­ted English against French but also farm­ers against those in the cities and or­ga­nized labour against those who owned the means of pro­duc­tion. In a war where Cana­di­ans came to­gether like never be­fore in sup­port­ing the sol­diers, or in pa­tri­otic war-re­lated work, the pres­sure of the war also ex­posed old fault lines and cre­ated new ones.

One of the great­est sym­bols of both unity and dis­unity was Canada’s vast army of the fallen. Across Canada, but not uni­formly dis­persed, tens of thou­sands of of­fi­cial death no­tices brought news of grief, in staid gov­ern­ment lan­guage, stat­ing that a loved one had been killed or lost to bat­tle. Par­ents ex­changed sons for Memo­rial Cross medals. The legacy of pain lay like a shroud across the coun­try.

And yet the Span­ish flu of 1918 and 1919 was al­most as

dev­as­tat­ing as the four-year-long war, with the num­ber of deaths com­ing in a shorter time pe­riod. Why did Cana­di­ans erect thou­sands of mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als to the First World War fallen and al­most noth­ing for the flu vic­tims?

One rea­son must be the im­mense tragedy of the war and its deep well of loss. The act of send­ing Cana­di­ans off to serve and to dis­ap­pear in the muck of the Somme or Passchendaele con­tin­ues to haunt, its emo­tional power seem­ingly far be­yond that of the dev­as­tat­ing flu. There is some­thing about the First World War that lingers, and maybe it has to do with the ex­cite­ment and pride of the war ef­fort giv­ing way to sor­row at the un­end­ing ca­su­al­ties, the shock of the war’s length and trauma, and per­haps that of the young killing the young on for­eign fields. It is also the tremen­dous legacy of that loss that feeds a strong emo­tional re­sponse that has not been easy for Cana­di­ans to put to rest.

The ab­sence of the bod­ies is an­other fac­tor con­tribut­ing to the war’s trou­bling legacy. Most of the fallen were buried over­seas in Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion ceme­ter­ies; or, in the case of the al­most twenty thou­sand with no known graves be­cause their bod­ies were lost or de­stroyed, their names are in­scribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres and the Vimy mon­u­ment in France. These vast ceme­ter­ies and over­seas mon­u­ments re­main poignant sym­bols of loss and an­guish, and yet they are also sources of pride and mem­ory mak­ing. In com­mis­sion­ing a na­tional war memo­rial in 1925, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in­structed that the de­signer should cap­ture the “spirit of hero­ism … ex­em­pli­fied in the lives of those who sac­ri­ficed.”

The group­ing of the war dead, as op­posed to the flu vic­tims who are spread through­out al­most ev­ery com­mu­nity in Canada, also plays a role in fo­cus­ing the en­dur­ing sor­row. The over­seas ceme­ter­ies are com­pelling silent lega­cies that bear wit­ness to lives cut short, with the sheer num­ber of graves of­fer­ing some quan­tifi­ca­tion of the stag­ger­ing losses. These sites of mourn­ing draw Cana­di­ans to them ev­ery year; but those who go must make a con­scious choice and travel great dis­tances, all the while an­tic­i­pat­ing a ren­dezvous with the lost Cana­di­ans who are al­ways ly­ing in wait.

The sur­vivors sought mean­ing in the war and es­pe­cially looked for a sense of clo­sure. In the early 1920s, Cana­di­ans turned to en­nobling the fallen. They were Christ-like fig­ures who had sac­ri­ficed for op­pressed peo­ples and who died in the de­fence of lib­eral ideas of free­dom. This ven­er­a­tion of the dead

helped some of the griev­ing fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties to heal. And there was sol­i­dar­ity in grief. The fallen were not al­lowed sim­ply to dis­ap­pear. Com­mem­o­ra­tive plaques for schools and busi­nesses, the nam­ing of ge­o­graphic places and memo­rial struc­tures, stained-glass win­dows, and re­flec­tive books were just some of the means to mark the war’s dead.

In com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try, cit­i­zens built empty sepul­chres and memo­ri­als, many of which bear the names of the fallen, to em­body their lost bod­ies. These lo­cal mon­u­ments were called ceno­taphs from the Greek for “empty tomb.” Sev­eral thou­sand in num­ber, they be­came fo­cal points for the sur­vivors to come to­gether to pay their re­spects on Armistice Day, or, after 1931, Re­mem­brance Day. The mon­u­ments and Re­mem­brance Day are still with us and, along with the poppy and two min­utes of si­lence, are im­por­tant icons of loss from a war that in­fuses the Cana­dian sym­bolic and ge­o­graphic land­scape.

The dead were sanc­ti­fied, but it was more dif­fi­cult to deal with the liv­ing. Some 173,000 sol­diers and nurses were in­jured, and 138,000 were counted as wounded on the bat­tle­field, al­though the lat­ter num­ber in­cluded dou­ble or triple wounds to the same per­son. None­the­less, the num­ber of maimed men was shock­ingly high, with about seven out of ten sol­diers serv­ing in France be­ing wounded or killed.

The mass of bro­ken men re­quired state in­ter­ven­tion to cre­ate a se­ries of hos­pi­tals and treat­ment cen­tres across the coun­try. There were pros­thetic-limb and glass-eye fac­to­ries. Sur­geons, doc­tors, nurses, and new spe­cial­ists, such as mas­sage ther­a­pists, all tried to ease these maimed men and women back into so­ci­ety. The re­sult­ing health care sys­tem was a cru­cial foun­da­tion of state medicine in Canada, and the war con­di­tioned fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for the care of the wounded and the large costs as­so­ci­ated with it, a legacy still with us to­day.

The vet­er­ans, ini­tially known as re­turned men, came back changed. Some of that change was for the bet­ter. The Khaki Univer­sity, an army-run ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram that drew teach­ers from the ranks and ed­u­cated fifty thou­sand Cana­dian sol­diers in the front lines and in re­serve ar­eas, taught hun­dreds of men who were il­lit­er­ate to read and to write, while oth­ers re­ceived tech­ni­cal train­ing or an op­por­tu­nity to study at a Bri­tish univer­sity.

There were also more vis­i­ble phys­i­cal changes, as most men put on seven to ten kilo­grams of weight dur­ing the course of the war from steady, starchy meals and reg­u­lar ex­er­cise. Iron­i­cally, the war was good for the bod­ies of many who donned the uni­form, and most sol­diers be­came “den­tally fit” dur­ing the war, with hun­dreds of thou­sands of men ben­e­fit­ing from im­proved teeth. These are war lega­cies that have been for­got­ten, but they surely mat­tered to in­di­vid­ual men and their fam­i­lies. There were also neg­a­tive long-term health fac­tors, such as vene­real dis­ease, of which there were some sixty-six thou­sand recorded cases among Cana­dian sol­diers dur­ing the war.

Vet­er­ans were a liv­ing legacy of the war — a new, large, and iden­ti­fi­able group of Cana­di­ans. There had been vet­er­ans in the past, some eight thou­sand from the South African War, for ex­am­ple, but now they were a force in so­ci­ety. Two would be­come prime min­is­ters (John Diefen­baker and Lester Pear­son), while many more were elected as Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment or be­came lead­ers in busi­ness, uni­ver­si­ties, and all man­ner of pro­fes­sions.

The vet­er­ans of­ten banded to­gether to in­flu­ence the di­rec­tion of the new Canada that emerged from the war. One of their im­me­di­ate goals was to re­verse the wartime abo­li­tion of al­co­hol that for many re­form­ers was thought to be a per­ma­nent wartime legacy of good. Nel­lie McClung, who fought for women’s en­fran­chise­ment and to ban al­co­hol, used wartime rhetoric in the bat­tle against booze: “We de­spise the army of the Kaiser for drop­ping bombs on de­fence­less peo­ple, and shoot­ing down women and chil­dren — we say it vi­o­lates the laws of civ­i­lized war­fare. The liquor traf­fic has waged war on women and chil­dren all down the cen­turies.” Most sol­diers did not agree, and al­most all re­lied heav­ily on their rum ra­tion in the trenches to help to en­dure the strain. Tem­per­ance seemed a per­ma­nent legacy of the war, but it did not last long, with vet­er­ans in the lead for bring­ing back al­co­hol. Vet­er­ans were less con­cerned with ad­dress­ing the adop­tion of day­light sav­ing time, an­other wartime legacy, to im­prove farm­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, that is still in ef­fect to­day in most of Canada.

“Friends wanted to hear glo­ri­ous sto­ries of the bat­tle­field,” re­counted Pierre van Paassen, a sol­dier who later be­came a jour­nal­ist, “and you felt like vom­it­ing when the sub­ject was men­tioned.”

Un­able to find words to share con­flicted feel­ings, vet­er­ans banded to­gether to find so­lace in one an­other and to soothe in­vis­i­ble wounds. They of­ten only found com­fort in the com­pany of those who had been through the war. Count­less vet­er­ans bat­tled to over­come the con­flict that had im­printed it­self on their minds and am­pu­tated some as­pects of their in­ner selves.

There were about nine thou­sand recorded cases of shell shock dur­ing the war, along with un­known thou­sands of ad­di­tional men who went un­counted. Long be­fore med­i­cal au­thor­i­ties had agreed upon a di­ag­no­sis of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, the em­bry­onic med­i­cal sys­tem for vet­er­ans of­fered help in some cases. But too of­ten men were shunted to the pe­riph­ery and la­belled “burnouts.”

Thou­sands of re­turned men never found a way to cope with the war as they strug­gled with their phys­i­cal and men­tal wounds. Sir Arthur Cur­rie, the fi­nal Cana­dian Corps com­man­der, who him­self en­dured what we would now call post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der, be­lieved that the “health of al­most every­one who served through­out the war was, to some ex­tent, ad­versely af­fected…. It might be dif­fi­cult to say that a [later] af­fec­tion of the lungs, or heart or nerves is un­ques­tion­ably at­trib­ut­able to war ser­vice, yet a man would have to be su­per­hu­manly wise to say it was not.”

Vi­o­lence was all too com­mon in the vet­er­ans’ post­war lives, with many frus­trated war­riors abus­ing al­co­hol as a form of self-med­i­ca­tion. Loved ones sought to pierce the shield of si­lence, usu­ally un­suc­cess­fully. Some­times the men re­cov­ered and found ways to go for­ward; some­times they lived in life­long iso­la­tion or ended the pain through sui­cide. This par­tic­u­lar legacy of the war is es­pe­cially dif­fi­cult to as­sess; these men were of­ten lost to the med­i­cal sys­tem, and their fate is known only to their fam­i­lies.

And yet, while shell shock and the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of the war be­came a pre­vail­ing trope for un­der­stand­ing the car­nage of the Western Front as well as a metaphor used by writ­ers, film­mak­ers, and play­wrights ever since as a sym­bol of the hor­ror of war, it ap­pears that most vet­er­ans came back phys­i­cally healthy and men­tally fit. They re­turned to their loved ones and tried to get on with their lives.


But reintegration was never easy, even for the able-bod­ied and untraumatized, and the Cana­dian state could not as­sist all vet­er­ans. There were too many men and not enough jobs in 1919, as the coun­try stum­bled slowly from war pro­duc­tion to man­u­fac­tur­ing goods for peace­time. Pref­er­en­tial hir­ing in the civil ser­vice cre­ated jobs for some twenty-six thou­sand vet­er­ans, al­though it was not enough. Rel­a­tively gen­er­ous pen­sions — far su­pe­rior to those avail­able in war-poor Bri­tain or bank­rupt Ger­many — were is­sued to the wounded, with some sev­enty-seven thou­sand vet­er­ans re­ceiv­ing pay­ments in the early 1930s. But there were few vet­er­ans with an am­pu­tated leg, a blinded eye, or an even worse wound who felt they had re­ceived a square deal from Ot­tawa.

“That ter­ri­ble rest­less­ness which pos­sesses us like an evil spirit,” wrote vet­eran Ge­orge Pear­son, made it dif­fi­cult for re­turned men to set­tle down in their pre­vi­ous jobs. Many sought open spa­ces and free­dom from hi­er­ar­chy. One thing the state could do was to pro­vide cheap farm­land and low-in­ter­est loans, which it did for 24,709 vet­er­ans. About a third of the land was ex­pro­pri­ated from First Na­tions, and much of it was rocky and un­suit­able for grow­ing crops. With in­flated wartime food prices drop­ping in the post­war years, many of these new farm­ers’ dreams were de­stroyed as they faced back-break­ing work for barely break-even yields. About half of the vet­er­ans’ farms went bank­rupt within a decade. The land ap­pro­pri­ated from Indige­nous peo­ple and the hard lives of vet­er­ans-turned-farm­ers were grim lega­cies of the gov­ern­ment’s fum­bling at­tempt to aid the re­turned men.

The one pos­i­tive re­sult was that plan­ners and politi­cians dur- ing the Sec­ond World War — pushed by First World War vet­er­ans — learned from these er­rors and in­sti­gated a far more for­ward-think­ing se­ries of plans to rein­te­grate ser­vice per­son­nel in 1945 back into so­ci­ety via what was known as the Vet­er­ans Char­ter. That sweep­ing set of pro­grams con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to decades of pros­per­ity in Canada.

There was no thought of how to pay for the war ef­fort when Canada en­tered the fray in Au­gust 1914, but war is not cheap. By 1918, Canada had a ti­tanic debt of some three bil­lion dol­lars, and one of the money pits was the na­tion­al­iza­tion of sev­eral fail­ing rail­ways. These rail­ways, amal­ga­mated un­der Cana­dian Na­tional in 1919, were seen as too big to fail, even though, as one his­to­rian wrote, in­ves­ti­ga­tions into nearly bank­rupt com­pa­nies re­vealed “a shock­ing recital of fraud, du­plic­ity, col­lu­sion, in­com­pe­tence, and mis­man­age­ment.” They were a fi­nan­cial drain for many years, un­til the most prof­itable of the lines were fi­nally de­ter­mined through mar­ket forces, be­com­ing yet an­other wartime legacy that’s still with us.

The state also in­ter­vened in June 1916 to cre­ate of a se­ries of gov­ern­ment-led re­search groups that would form the foun­da­tion for the fu­ture Na­tional Re­search Coun­cil. To this day the NRC con­tin­ues to cre­ate world-class re­search and tech­nol­ogy.

There were other wartime fi­nan­cial lega­cies, in­clud­ing a seis­mic shift away from Bri­tish mar­kets, with Lon­don no longer serv­ing in its tra­di­tional role as Canada’s fi­nancier. To pay for the rapidly es­ca­lat­ing costs of the war, the gov­ern­ment was forced to go cap in hand to Wash­ing­ton to bor­row hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars.

The Amer­i­cans, neu­tral in the war up to April 1917, charged un­gen­er­ous in­ter­est rates on these huge loans, but at least Cana­di­ans held a large part of the debt through war bonds. Des­per­ate for more money, Ot­tawa in­tro­duced in­come tax in 1916 for busi­nesses and then, the next year, for in­di­vid­u­als. The new tax did not amount to much dur­ing the war, but the gov­ern­ment did not re­lin­quish this power after the armistice.

The war gal­va­nized Cana­di­ans like never be­fore, but they also turned on one an­other in the cru­sade to de­feat Ger­many. Dur­ing the high ten­sions of the early war years, when there were wild ru­mours of Ger­man-Amer­i­can cross-bor­der in­va­sions and sev­eral acts of sab­o­tage by Ger­man agents or sym­pa­thiz­ers that in­cluded the as­sas­si­na­tion of Cana­dian sol­diers, anx­ious Cana­di­ans looked for en­e­mies in their midst.

Ger­man Cana­di­ans were as­saulted, forced from jobs, and had their busi­nesses boy­cotted or burned down. Many thou­sands changed their names to avoid per­se­cu­tion, thereby eras­ing thou­sands of Ger­man names be­tween the 1911 and 1921 cen­suses. In 1916, Ber­lin, On­tario, changed its name to Kitch­ener, in hon­our of the Bri­tish War Min­is­ter Lord Kitch­ener, to avoid con­flict.

Hyper-vig­i­lant Cana­di­ans also turned on Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian im­mi­grants, who, like Ger­man Cana­di­ans, were la­belled en­emy aliens be­cause the Bri­tish Em­pire was at war with Aus­tri­aHun­gary. Close to nine thou­sand peo­ple were in­terned in two dozen iso­lated camps across the coun­try, a lit­tle more than a third of them clas­si­fied as pris­on­ers of war. The ma­jor­ity of civil­ian in­ternees were Ukraini­ans.

Some fam­i­lies were torn apart, while in other cases wives and chil­dren ac­com­pa­nied men to the re­mote camps where the in­ternees en­gaged in man­ual labour for a mere twenty-five cents a day. While most Ukraini­ans were re­leased be­fore the armistice, sev­eral of the in­ternees were shot try­ing to es­cape, and oth­ers had their health ir­re­vo­ca­bly dam­aged. Some eighty thou­sand other peo­ple were tracked by the state and forced to carry iden­ti­fi­ca­tion pa­pers, while some fifty thou­sand Cana­di­ans, those la­belled en­emy aliens, were dis­en­fran­chised be­fore the De­cem­ber 1917 fed­eral elec­tion.

These acts, es­pe­cially the in­tern­ment, led to deep and last­ing scars in the Ukrainian com­mu­nity, some­thing that was for­mally ac­knowl­edged in 2005 by a gov­ern­ment apol­ogy and a few years later by an en­dow­ment to fund ed­u­ca­tional or com-

mem­o­ra­tive projects that ex­plore the painful acts com­mit­ted dur­ing the war years.

The state’s harsh treat­ment of po­ten­tial dis­senters also ex­tended to or­ga­nized labour, with the gov­ern­ment of­ten break­ing strikes by us­ing its pow­ers un­der the War Mea­sures Act. Farm­ers, too, felt ig­nored by the two fed­eral par­ties, es­pe­cially in April 1918 when the gov­ern­ment broke its prom­ise to ex­empt farm­ers’ sons from over­seas ser­vice. “We as farm­ers are down­trod­den by ev­ery other class,” re­marked a bit­ter del­e­gate to the United Farm­ers of Al­berta con­ven­tion dur­ing the war. “We will or­ga­nize for our pro­tec­tion.” Across the coun­try the be­trayed farm­ers banded to­gether and built upon ex­ist­ing farm­ers par­ties or cre­ated new ones, some­times with ad­di­tional el­e­ments from the labour move­ment. These new par­ties touched a chord, with the United Farm­ers of On­tario win­ning that prov­ince’s elec­tion in 1919.

At the fed­eral level, a new third party, the Pro­gres­sives, with lit­tle or­ga­ni­za­tion but rid­ing a wave of anger, sent sixty-four mem­bers to the House of Com­mons in the 1921 fed­eral elec­tion and formed the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion. Be­cause of their de­mands for change, the new Lib­eral prime min­is­ter, Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King, called them “Lib­er­als in a hurry,” but he found ways to work with mem­bers of the new party dur­ing the first half of the decade.

The Pro­gres­sives and oth­ers would later give birth to the Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion in 1932, which be­came the New Demo­cratic Party in 1961. The war’s legacy of alien­ation of Western­ers, farm­ers, French Canada, and labour led to the cre­ation of new par­ties and move­ments, and it con­tin­ues to in­form mod­ern pol­i­tics.

No Cana­di­ans were more an­gered by the war than the peo­ple of Que­bec. French Cana­di­ans both within and out­side the prov­ince did not feel the pull of Em­pire that was so pow­er­ful with their an­glo­phone com­pa­tri­ots, and while some French-speak­ers were mo­ti­vated to aid France, and tens of thou­sands fought for Canada, the Que­bec clergy in lo­cal parishes was against the war.

When the ca­su­al­ties came by the thou­sands, they fell most heav­ily on English Canada, re­sult­ing in old griev­ances be­ing stirred and the cre­ation of new an­i­mosi­ties. Que­bec was sin­gled out in the me­dia and by the hyper-pa­tri­otic for not do­ing its part in the war. French Canada was an easy tar­get in the nar­row assess­ment that looked only at man­power and that ig­nored the cru­cial role of farm pro­duc­tion. In 1916, Ot­tawa news­pa­per

Le Droit ex­pressed anger over lan­guage rights and the grow­ing at­tacks against French Canada, ask­ing, “Of what use is it for us to fight Prus­sian­ism and bar­bar­ity [over­seas] when the same con­di­tions ex­ist at home?”

The act of con­script­ing young men for over­seas ser­vice was di­vi­sive across the coun­try, but it was felt most deeply in Que­bec. Wide­spread protests cen­tred in Mon­treal flared up through­out the sum­mer of 1917, bring­ing thou­sands to the street ev­ery night to hear fiery or­a­tors who pro­claimed the need for re­sis­tance, while those on the fringe raved about the com­ing in­sur­rec­tion and even the as­sas­si­na­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Bor­den.

This pub­lic un­rest lay dor­mant over the win­ter, but on Easter week­end of 1918 in Que­bec City, after sev­eral nights of ri­ot­ing brought on by the ar­rest of French Cana­di­ans who were not car­ry­ing their con­scrip­tion-ex­emp­tion cards, English-Cana­dian mili­tia units were rushed to the volatile city. Start­ing on March 28, 1918, thou­sands of anti-con­scrip­tion pro­test­ers roamed the streets, break­ing win­dows and set­ting fire to fed­eral build-

ings. On April 1, after the sun set, an­other large crowd faced off with the armed mili­tia. In­sults were traded back and forth, and mat­ters de­gen­er­ated rapidly when a hand­ful of FrenchCana­dian ag­i­ta­tors, hid­ing in the crowd of thou­sands, or sta­tioned on rooftops, fired on the mili­ti­a­men. The riot act was read to dis­perse the crowd, and then the mili­tia opened fire. When the shoot­ing stopped, four Que­be­cers lay dead, and one hun­dred more were wounded.

“Many will come to Que­bec to visit the spot where it oc­curred, to see the places where the ma­chine guns were laid on the mob and to see the streets where the men fell,” pro­claimed one Que­bec Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment in the af­ter­math of the killings.

“We Que­be­cers who live there will con­stantly have a re­mem­brance of the dis­grace that took place.” The legacy of the mar­tyred dead in Que­bec City and of the vi­o­lent re­ac­tion to con­scrip­tion lived on long past the war, a mem­ory that over­shad­owed the sac­ri­fices of many thou­sands of French Cana­di­ans who had served king and coun­try and the many more who worked in fac­to­ries or farms in sup­port of the war ef­fort.

The frag­ile unity of Con­fed­er­a­tion, of com­pro­mise and con­cil­i­a­tion be­tween English and French, as un­easy as it some­times was, had been ir­re­vo­ca­bly shaken in 1917 as the English ma­jor­ity ran roughshod over the French, fol­lowed by the tragic shoot­ings in the last year of the war.

The story of the war in Que­bec, es­pe­cially after the rise of the Que­bec in­de­pen­dence move­ment in the 1960s, was in­voked very dif­fer­ently from the story told in English Canada, which saw the war as an event that trans­formed the coun­try, mov­ing it from a colony to sta­tus as a full na­tion.

In Que­bec, the war’s legacy was as a ma­lig­nant force that had un­leashed ter­ri­ble pas­sions and had led to hu­mil­i­at­ing op­pres­sion.

The roles of women in so­ci­ety were also fun­da­men­tally changed by the war. Dur­ing the con­flict, most of the pa­tri­otic or­ga­ni­za­tions were or­ga­nized by women, who also car­ried out the work. These or­ga­ni­za­tions raised some fifty mil­lion dol­lars in do­na­tions, along with an­other fifty mil­lion raised by the Cana­dian Pa­tri­otic Fund — a group formed by the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness elite but largely run by mid­dle-class women — to care for sol­diers’ de­pen­dants. This work led to a mas­sive change in the giv­ing habits of Cana­di­ans.

In the war years women en­tered the work­force to re­place the young men who went over­seas, but most lost their jobs upon the sol­diers’ re­turn in 1919. His­to­ri­ans have at­tempted to un­tan­gle the im­pact of the war on women, with some sug­gest­ing that there were few long-term ef­fects. How­ever, a re­veal­ing 1994 Na­tional Film Board pro­duc­tion, And We Knew How to

Dance, ex­plored the story of a dozen women and of­fered an­other view. The in­ter­vie­wees, aged 86 to 101, re­vealed tremen­dous pride in con­tri­bu­tions they had un­der­taken even as they dealt with gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and fended off sex­ual ad­vances from male man­agers. They tes­ti­fied that they felt their wartime ef­forts had helped to ease the way for fu­ture so­cial change.

Mu­ni­tions worker Willa Mar­shall be­lieved that “the women showed that they could do some­thing out­side of the house, which gave them power.” While not all women would have echoed Mar­shall, one won­ders how many of them passed on the new­found in­de­pen­dence gained from work­ing in mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries or as an am­bu­lance driver to their daugh­ters, who would fur­ther break down gen­der bar­ri­ers in the Sec­ond World War, serv­ing both in uni­form and in wartime in­dus­tries?

One un­de­ni­able wartime legacy was en­fran­chise­ment, an act that came as a re­ward to women who al­lowed, even pres­sured, sons and hus­bands to go off to war. That it was the re­sult of var­i­ous fed­eral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments brazenly seek­ing women’s votes is true; and that it would cer­tainly have come at some point is also true; but the vote was lo­cated in and as­so­ci­ated with the war. While Indige­nous women and some other vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties were de­nied the fran­chise, the ma­jor­ity of women were able to vote in most prov­inces and at the fed­eral level by the end of the con­flict. It would be a long road to full equal­ity for women in Canada, with many bat­tles ahead, but the First World War was an un­de­ni­able part of that process.

An­other im­por­tant if largely for­got­ten wartime legacy was grounded in the de­sire of many Cana­di­ans, led force­fully by women in the ma­ter­nal health field, to save lives. In­fant mor­tal­ity was a scourge in Canada. Be­fore the war, for in­stance, about one in four ba­bies died be­fore reach­ing their first birth­days in the fetid con­di­tions of Mon­treal, and ba­bies born dur­ing the war were many times more likely to die than a sol­dier in uni­form.

These shock­ing deaths were ex­ac­er­bated by poverty and by a poor un­der­stand­ing of hy­giene, is­sues that were in­creas­ingly ad­dressed after the war and that were some­times cou­pled with the idea of re­gen­er­at­ing or re­plac­ing the ter­ri­ble losses of the war with a new gen­er­a­tion of healthy ba­bies. “If we are to be a great na­tion,” ex­horted He­len Reid, a wartime or­ga­nizer and post­war re­former, “we must be­gin at the bases, the health of the na­tion, and see that we have healthy boys and girls born to be our

fu­ture cit­i­zens.” More at­ten­tion was af­forded to the care of ba­bies through do­mes­tic-sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams and pas­teur­ized milk. Count­less ba­bies sur­vived past their first year to live full lives as a re­sult of the re­ac­tion to the wan­ton de­struc­tion and loss of the Western Front.

The Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force (CEF) was formed largely by white, English-speak­ing Cana­di­ans, but it also in­cluded thou­sands of vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties, new Cana­di­ans, and Indige­nous Cana­di­ans, all fight­ing and dy­ing to­gether. The CEF re­quired a re­mark­able act of com­ing to­gether, es­pe­cially in a coun­try with deep di­vi­sions and equally deep prej­u­dices. While the unity of the trenches did not last long in post­war Canada, new Cana­di­ans and Indige­nous Cana­di­ans were all ad­mit­ted to the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion, and bonds of ca­ma­raderie brought to­gether those who had stood side by side in the trenches long into the post­war years.

While all vet­er­ans faced sim­i­lar chal­lenges, there were unique ex­pe­ri­ences. To take but two ex­am­ples, Ja­pa­nese Cana­di­ans and Indige­nous Cana­di­ans re­turn­ing from serv­ing over­seas had been treated as equals in the trenches by their white com­rades but came back to a racist so­ci­ety that sought to deny them many ba­sic rights of cit­i­zen­ship. Two hun­dred and twen­tytwo Ja­pa­nese Cana­di­ans served dur­ing the war, and about a quar­ter of them were killed.

Some sur­vivors banded to­gether and used their war ser­vice to de­mand equal­ity. After a long strug­gle, Ja­pa­nese-Cana­dian vet­er­ans re­ceived the right to vote provin­cially in Bri­tish Columbia, where most of them lived, in 1931. It would be al­most two decades be­fore other Ja­pa­nese Cana­di­ans could vote in B.C., and this came about only after al­most all of them had been forcibly re­lo­cated dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

There were also sev­eral thou­sand Indige­nous Cana­di­ans who served over­seas dur­ing the First World War. Those who en­listed from their home com­mu­ni­ties on re­serves were for­mal wards of the state. They had few rights in Canada, with

money and land con­trolled by In­dian agents, and they could not vote. Over­seas they were al­lowed to vote in the 1917 fed­eral elec­tion, their sta­tus as ci­ti­zen-sol­diers over­com­ing en­trenched racism.

Many were em­pow­ered by their ser­vice, de­mand­ing change and greater rights when they came home. In 1919, Mo­hawk vet­eran Lieu­tenant Fred­er­ick Loft (Onondeyoh) started a move­ment, the League of In­di­ans of Canada, to ad­dress long­time griev­ances. Loft sought to unite dis­parate Indige­nous bands to work to­gether and to free them­selves “from the dom­i­na­tion of of­fi­cial­dom and from be­ing ever the prey and vic­tims of un­scrupu­lous means of de­priv­ing us of our lands and homes and even … the rights we are en­ti­tled to as free men un­der the Bri­tish flag.” The Depart­ment of In­dian Af­fairs and other fed­eral bod­ies fiercely op­posed Loft, es­pe­cially over re­forms to re­serve lands. Yet, while vet­er­ans failed to cre­ate a na­tional move­ment, the League un­der­pinned fu­ture Indige­nous groups that took up the same call for change, a fight that con­tin­ues to this day.

While post­war Canada churned from the im­me­di­ate ef­fects of the war, there were steady changes to how the coun­try’s lead­ers tried to po­si­tion Canada on the world stage. Few Cana­di­ans sought to break from the Bri­tish Em­pire after the war, but the con­flict sparked new feel­ings of in­de­pen­dence. In chart­ing Canada’s course for­ward, Lor­ing Christie, Bor­den’s ad­viser in mat­ters of for­eign af­fairs, wrote that the war had won new recog­ni­tion for the coun­try. “Canada is not a colony, she is mis­tress of her own des­tiny. Canada is not a pos­ses­sion; the Cana­dian peo­ple and no one else are the own­ers of Canada.” A sig­na­ture on the Treaty of Ver­sailles in 1919 was an em­blem of this strength­ened au­ton­omy, al­though Canada signed as part of the Bri­tish Em­pire. Canada’s en­try into the flawed League of Na­tions was also an im­por­tant step for­ward in the coun­try’s con­tri­bu­tion to global diplo­macy.

It fell to Lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King, who took power in 1921, to ease the coun­try to­ward full con­trol over its for­eign pol­icy. His first great chal­lenge was in screw­ing up his courage to say no to the Bri­tish dur­ing the Chanak Af­fair in 1922. Cana­di­ans were not in­ter­ested in an­other war in a far-off land, and, while Lon­don ex­pected Ot­tawa to con­trib­ute an ex­pe­di­tionary force to come to the aid of a threat­ened Bri­tish mil­i­tary gar­ri­son in Tur­key, a cau­tious King de­layed un­til the cri­sis had passed, thereby avoid­ing, in his words, the im­pe­ri­al­ists drag­ging “Canada into the vor­tex of mil­i­tarism.”

King built on this suc­cess by sign­ing — in­de­pen­dently of Bri­tain — fish­ing-rights treaties with the United States and by strength­en­ing Canada’s Depart­ment of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs. These were part of the grad­ual evo­lu­tion to­wards the Statute of West­min­ster in 1931, which ul­ti­mately pro­vided con­trol of for­eign pol­icy to the do­min­ions. Canada was free to pur­sue its own diplo­matic poli­cies.

Astrength­ened Cana­dian cul­ture and iden­tity also emerged from a war that in­spired sur­vivors to write, paint, and mount plays that ex­plored the ex­pe­ri­ence. A.Y. Jack­son, an of­fi­cial war painter dur­ing the war, spoke of the new con­fi­dence: “We are no longer hum­ble colo­nials. We’ve made armies. We can also make artists, his­to­ri­ans, and po­ets.” Cana­dian vaude­ville groups like the Dum­bells, cre­ated by sol­diers who had served over­seas, toured Canada for a decade after the war, while sev­eral mem­bers of the Group of Seven, in­clud­ing Jack­son, had painted in an of­fi­cial wartime ca­pac­ity. John McCrae’s “In Flan­ders Fields” res­onated through­out the Em­pire, be­com­ing the sig­na­ture poem of the war and, af­ter­wards, of the need to re­mem­ber the sac­ri­fice of the fallen.

New Cana­dian he­roes were cre­ated: the nurses, the Vic­to­ria Cross re­cip­i­ents, and knights of the sky such as Billy Bishop. In French Canada, Thomas-Louis Trem­blay, com­man­der of the Van Doos, of­fi­cer and di­plo­mat Ge­orges Vanier, and Vic­to­ria Cross re­cip­i­ent Jean Bril­lant were all cel­e­brated. A well-honed pub­lic­ity ma­chine over­seas — es­tab­lished by Wil­liam Maxwell Aitken, Lord Beaver­brook, the ex­pa­tri­ate Cana­dian mil­lion­aire — con­sisted of jour­nal­ists and ser­vice per­son­nel writ­ing and pub­lish­ing news­pa­per ac­counts, con­tem­po­rary his­to­ries, il­lus­trated mag­a­zines, and short film fea­tures, and dis­sem­i­nat­ing these sto­ries to Cana­di­ans and through­out the Em­pire.

Beaver­brook also sought to forge a his­tor­i­cal legacy — in his words, “to lay down the bedrock of his­tory.” By the sum­mer of 1916, he es­tab­lished an of­fi­cial war art, pho­tog­ra­phy, and film pro­gram to doc­u­ment Cana­di­ans’ war prow­ess. The Aus­tralians fol­lowed his wildly suc­cess­ful lead, and the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment of David Lloyd Ge­orge el­e­vated Beaver­brook to the role of min­is­ter of in­for­ma­tion in 1918 to raise aware­ness of the Em­pire’s war ef­fort. The re­sult­ing art, pho­tog­ra­phy, and film cre­ated a vis­ual legacy for Cana­di­ans to know the war and to con­tin­u­ally reimagine it to this day.

Dur­ing and after the war, writ­ers, his­to­ri­ans, and artists em­pha­sized the Cana­dian con­tri­bu­tions as be­ing dif­fer­ent from those of the Bri­tish. Sym­bols such as the maple leaf, iden­ti­fi­able Cana­dian units, and even Cur­rie, as the fi­nal Cana­dian-born corps com­man­der from June 1917 to the end of the war, be­came rec­og­niz­able icons of Cana­dian unique­ness. W.L. Grant’s 1923 school text­book, His­tory of Canada, pro­claimed that the coun­try’s wartime ex­er­tions had given “Canada for­ever her place among the na­tions of the world.”

Cana­di­ans rankled when they were lumped in with the Bri­tish, and there was a fierce de­mand for Cana­dian recog­ni­tion, which was par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in the 1920s as pa­tri­otic, hyper-na­tion­al­ist Amer­i­can pub­li­ca­tions and films claimed that the United States had won the war. Cana­di­ans were quick to point out that they had played a far greater bat­tle­field role than


the Johnny-come-lately Amer­i­cans, even in 1918, the cru­cial year of vic­tory. “Amer­ica counted her prof­its,” wrote one bit­ter Cana­dian, “while Canada buried her dead.”

The Cana­dian war ef­fort con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly to the long process of English Cana­di­ans carv­ing out an iden­tity that was sep­a­rate from the Bri­tish, al­though other com­mu­ni­ties, such as Indige­nous peo­ple, new Cana­di­ans, and French Cana­di­ans, drew from the war in dif­fer­ent ways to strike their paths for­ward.

While the war pro­foundly changed Canada, it also de­stroyed New­found­land as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion. The proud, self­gov­ern­ing do­min­ion went to war in Au­gust 1914, but New­found­land had over-reached in its re­lent­less con­tri­bu­tion and was pushed to the brink. Some New­found­lan­ders felt that their beloved Rock never re­cov­ered from the ter­ri­ble losses at Beau­mont-Hamel, Cam­brai, and other key bat­tles, not to men­tion the heavy debt that re­sulted from the war. By 1933, New­found­land was not only bank­rupt but also so un­sta­ble that it lost re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment — the abil­ity to gov­ern it­self — and Bri­tain took over ad­min­is­tra­tion of the crown colony.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, New­found­land be­came a cru­cial naval and sea base for the Bat­tle of the At­lantic and the de­fence of North Amer­ica, with Amer­i­can, Bri­tish, and Cana­dian ser­vice per­son­nel act­ing as friendly in­vaders and spend­ing their con­sid­er­able wealth freely. The two wars pro­foundly shaped the colony and moved it in­ex­orably to­ward con­fed­er­a­tion with Canada in 1949. The con­sid­er­able num­ber of diehards who re­sented the loss of their coun­try traced what they saw as the tragedy of Con­fed­er­a­tion back to the First World War. While Canada cel­e­brated Do­min­ion Day, later Canada Day, on July 1, that day is still a time for New­found­lan­ders to mourn the men who were killed at the Bat­tle of Beau­mont-Hamel in 1916 and to con­tem­plate the war’s un­in­tended legacy.

The echoes of the war re­ver­ber­ated through the sec­ond half of the cen­tury, and a new gen­er­a­tion of Cana­di­ans dis­cov­ered the Great War in the 1960s, of­ten through sharp con­dem­na­tions of the gen­er­als as por­trayed in his­tory books, films, plays, and even a resur­gence of po­etry. And yet, with the fifti­eth an­niver­sary of the First World War co­in­cid­ing with the one hun­dredth an­niver­sary of the coun­try in 1967, the two na­tion-build­ing an­niver­saries be­came con­flated.

The war — and es­pe­cially the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge, where Canada built its over­seas na­tional memo­rial — was el­e­vated into a cru­cial sign­post in the evo­lu­tion of the coun­try. In that for­ma­tive year of 1967, it was Prime Min­is­ter Lester Pear­son, him­self a vet­eran of the war, who de­scribed Vimy as “the birth

of the na­tion.” It was not, but Vimy was a form of sym­bolic short­hand for the en­tire war ef­fort and its pro­found legacy, which per­haps was felt even more deeply dur­ing the coun­try’s one hun­dredth an­niver­sary as Cana­di­ans looked back on his­tor­i­cal events that had trans­formed them as a peo­ple.

Over time, sym­bols such as Vimy or Beau­mont-Hamel were pressed into na­tional ser­vice, just as many French Cana­di­ans clung to con­scrip­tion as a legacy of un­tram­melled English bul­ly­ing. To­ward the end of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury and into the start of the twenty-first, the war con­tin­ued to in­form Canada’s cul­tural land­scape, with gen­er­a­tions of writ­ers, play­wrights, and film­mak­ers who did not di­rectly ex­pe­ri­ence the trauma of the trenches rein­ter­pret­ing the war. Tim­o­thy Find­ley’s novel

The Wars, John Gray and Eric Peter­son’s play Billy Bishop Goes

to War, Joseph Boy­den’s Three Day Road, and the film Passchendaele by Paul Gross, for ex­am­ple, all tack­led the sub­ject, il­lu­mi­nat­ing the many ways it shaped gen­er­a­tions of Cana­di­ans.

This re-en­gage­ment with and reimag­in­ing of the war started more force­fully in the 1970s, at the same time that large num­bers of First World War vet­er­ans were suc­cumb­ing to old age. By the end of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, ceme­ter­ies on Cana­dian soil con­tained more vet­er­ans than the over­seas burial grounds for those who lost their lives dur­ing the war.

In May 2000, Canada brought home the body of one of its un­known sol­diers from his rest­ing place near Vimy Ridge and in­terred him at the base of the na­tional memo­rial in Ot­tawa. “Wars are as old as his­tory,” said Gover­nor Gen­eral Adri­enne Clark­son in her eu­logy. “Over two thou­sand years ago, Herodotus wrote: ‘In peace, sons bury their fa­thers; in war, fa­thers bury their sons.’ To­day, we are gath­ered to­gether as one, to bury some­one’s son. The only cer­tainty about him is that he was young. If death is a debt we all must pay, he paid be­fore he owed it.”

The burial of one of Canada’s own was a sym­bolic act that at­tracted wide­spread me­dia at­ten­tion and came at a time when Cana­di­ans were pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the coun­try’s vet­er­ans in the af­ter­math of the fifti­eth an­niver­sary of the Sec­ond World War in 1995.

Since then, the num­ber of Cana­di­ans at­tend­ing Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies has vis­i­bly in­creased. The na­tional cer­e­mony in Ot­tawa, at the war memo­rial un­veiled in 1939 and known as The Re­sponse, saw the num­ber of at­ten­dees grow from a few thou­sand in the early 1980s to up­wards of thirty thou­sand since 2014, the start of the First World War’s cen­ten­nial. Across the coun­try each Novem­ber 11, Cana­di­ans go to their lo­cal memo­ri­als, nearly all of which were erected to mark the dead of the First World War but which now rep­re­sent all war dead, to re­flect upon those who served their coun­try in times of war and peace.

The slow and re­lent­less war of time against the vet­er­ans of the CEF had no armistice, and those who served in the First World War had al­most all died by the start of the twenty-first cen­tury. John Bab­cock, who had en­listed as an un­der­age sol­der, was the last of his com­rades; he was 109 when he passed away in 2010. Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper said of Bab­cock: “He sym­bol­izes a gen­er­a­tion of Cana­di­ans who, in many ways, were the au­thors of mod­ern Cana­dian na­tion­hood.” With their deaths, the tangi- ble link to our shared his­tory is now sev­ered; but the vet­er­ans’ legacy lives on in tens of thou­sands of let­ters, di­aries, and mem­oirs, hun­dreds of hours of archival film footage, tens of thou­sands of evoca­tive pho­to­graphs or pieces of art, and un­count­able num­bers of ar­ti­facts and relics that are in­fused with sto­ries and mean­ing.

The blood of those vet­er­ans who lived through the war, and some sol­diers who were killed, also pumps through the veins of mil­lions of Cana­di­ans. The fam­i­lies of their de­scen­dants have formed the mod­ern Canada. These ties of blood and be­long­ing will en­sure that the war is not eas­ily for­got­ten.

The vast dig­i­ti­za­tion of ar­ti­facts and the cre­ation of on­line re­sources have al­lowed Cana­di­ans to bet­ter ex­plore their fam-

ily his­to­ries. Be­cause of the mass of records and the age of the ma­te­rial, the First World War, with its in­ter­sec­tion of per­sonal, com­mu­nity, and state his­tory, may be the sin­gle most dig­i­tized his­tor­i­cal event avail­able on the In­ter­net.

In re­cent years this rich re­source has stim­u­lated in­no­va­tive school-based projects, al­low­ing teach­ers and stu­dents to re­search the names on their lo­cal ceno­taphs or other memo­rial mark­ers, us­ing dig­i­tized per­son­nel files from Li­brary and Ar­chives Canada, and then to build on such stud­ies with ac­cess to the wide va­ri­ety of other records avail­able, from let­ters to news­pa­pers, from ded­i­cated chat rooms to vir­tual ex­hi­bi­tions.

To this day, Cana­di­ans have a great emo­tional re­sponse to the First World War, em­bod­ied in phrases such as "Lest we for­get,” “the war to end all wars,” “the birth of the na­tion,” and “the pass­ing of the torch,” or in sym­bols and rit­u­als such as Re­mem­brance Day, the poppy, two min­utes of si­lence, and the thou­sands of mon­u­ments across this coun­try and over­seas. In 1919, in the af­ter­math of the de­struc­tive war, Man­i­toba

Free Press edi­tor John Wes­ley Dafoe walked the bat­tle­fields, drawn to the sites that hold and “may con­tinue to hold, a unique place in Cana­dian con­scious­ness.” In­deed, over the decades Cana­di­ans have been drawn back to the bat­tle­fields, but never have there been so many and in such con­cen­tra­tion as on April 9, 2017, when some twenty-five thou­sand Cana­di­ans re­turned to Vimy Ridge in an as­tound­ing dis­play of unity, pride, and sor­row. To mark the one hun­dredth an­niver­sary of the bat­tle, they came to­gether to hon­our those who were lost and to shed a tear on a ridge that is very far from Canada and yet very close to our hearts. Ninety-one-year-old Stan Eger­ton was one of those Cana­di­ans on the ridge. He went to hon­our his fa­ther, who served in the First World War, and his two broth­ers who were killed in the Sec­ond World War. When asked by a re­porter about his thoughts of the mean­ing of Vimy, the mon­u­ment, and the war, he replied, “I’d rather not say.”

There are si­lences and gaps in per­sonal honour­ing, even as na­tions re­mem­ber and for­get. Pub­lic acts of com­mem­o­ra­tion in­volve rais­ing up and pars­ing out se­lected as­pects of the past while down­play­ing or for­get­ting oth­ers. And yet, for the mass of Cana­di­ans who trav­elled thou­sands of kilo­me­tres to take part in this epic event, there was a de­sire to know and to con­nect, to ground the war of one hun­dred years ago in the present, to bear wit­ness to the loss and grief, and to com­mem­o­rate ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. The re­turn to Vimy re­minds all Cana­di­ans of the war’s long reach and of how that scarred and shared his­tory con­tin­ues to in­fuse the ever-rein­vented Canada.

Prime Min­is­ter Sir Robert Bor­den ad­dresses Cana­dian troops at a train­ing camp in Seaford, Eng­land, in Au­gust 1918.

Sol­diers wounded in the war sit un­der a scrawled con­scrip­tion mes­sage in Toronto circa 1916–17.

A re­cruit­ing poster ad­mon­ishes men who have not joined the armed forces, circa 1914–18.

Top: Nurs­ing sis­ters and con­va­lesc­ing sol­diers pose out­side a tent at No. 2 Cana­dian Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, Le Tré­port, France in 1917.Right: Mrs. C.S. Woods of Win­nipeg rep­re­sented Sil­ver Star Moth­ers of Canada at the un­veil­ing of the Vimy Memo­rial in 1936. She had twelve sons who fought in the war, of whom five were killed.

Gen­eral Sir Arthur Cur­rie vis­its wounded Cana­dian vet­er­ans, date un­known.

Fe­male crew mem­bers ser­vice a St. John Am­bu­lance As­so­ci­a­tion ve­hi­cle near No. 2 Cana­dian Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal, Le Tré­port, France, in 1917.

24Be­low: A Ja­pa­nese-Cana­dian sol­dier, left, shaves out­side a dugout dur­ing an ad­vance east of Ar­ras, France, in Septem­ber 1918.

Left: Black Cana­dian sol­diers take a break from load­ing Cana­dian Corps tramways with am­mu­ni­tion in July 1918.

This paint­ing by Arthur Lis­mer, fu­ture Group of Seven artist, de­picts the ar­rival of the RMS Olympic in Hal­i­fax Har­bour, Nova Sco­tia, De­cem­ber 14, 1918. The Olympic, a sis­ter ship of the RMS Ti­tanic, trans­ported 200,000 re­turn­ing sol­diers be­tween 1914 and 1919.

Canada’s Na­tional War Memo­rial in Ot­tawa, known as The Re­sponse, was un­veiled in 1939 to hon­our First World War dead.

Stu­dents in 2012 search the walls of the Vimy Memo­rial for the names of the Cana­dian sol­diers they re­searched as part of a school project.

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