World War I: Canadian Home Front

Canadian World War I home front
Figure 1.--This unidentified photograph shows some of the people helping to prepare and ship Red Cross parcels to the 4th Canadian Division in France during World War I. It loojks like they are in front of a church. One of the individuals is a Boy Scout.

While Canada like the other Dominions were automatically drawn into the War when Britain declared war on Germany (August 1914). Canadians like most Europeans were at first enthusiastic. Few had a realistic idea of modern war. The country mobilized to support the war effort and their soldiers at the front. The Red Cross played an important role. Britain declared war, but the Canadian Government through its Parliament controlled the level of participation. There were differences of opinions about the War. Most English speaking Canadians believed that Britain was right and that Germany and Austria-Hungary were tyranies waging an aggressive war. The most enthusiastic were those with the closest ties with Britain. This was especially true of recent immigrants with family in Britain. The least enthusiastic were French Canadians. Although France was the country most threatened, few French Canadians had family ties to France. Most saw it as a British war and wanted no part in it. Many English speaking Canadians volunteered. Few French-Canadiand did so. As the War comtinued, the need for man power at the front increased and conscription became a major political issue. French Canadians in particular were opposed to subscription. Canada's vast agricultural production made an important contribution to the Allied war effort.

Nationhood

Canada at the time of Worlkd War I was a very youthful nation absorbed principally with the settlement of the western prarie provinces. And foir this purpose, like the United States, had welcomed large numbers of European immigrants. The Dominion of Canada had been created (1867), but it was not yet independent and its consttutional relationship with Britain was still developing. Alberta and Saskatchewan had just becone provinces. The populatin was 7.2bmillion. [1911 Census]. There were 1.6 million (28 percent) recent immigrants, individuals born in other countries. Over half or 0.8 million of these recent immigrants were born in Britain. Many immigrants had strong attachments to their European motherlands. This varied as many of the immigrants from the Russian and Austrian empires wer ehnic minorities, often hosdtole to ther imperial structure. Most had come to Canada to seek ecoinomic opportunity, but avoiding conscriotin was another concern. The large numbers of British immigrants were especially supportive of Britain. The exception was the French Canadians which despite their language had few conections or attachment to France. Their primary political orientation was anti-British sentiment and a desire for cultural autonomy.

Declaration of War (August 1914)

Canada did not declare war, Britain did. King George V declared war on behalf of all British subjects (August 1914). Canada although a Dominion was part of the British Empire and the King's declaration of war meant that all the empire was also at war. The Canadian people were not consulted. Support for Britain was so strong that this was not questioned, although it woul be after the War. Canada thus like the other Dominions were automatically drawn into the War. Canadians like most Europeans were at first enthusiastic. Few had a realistic idea of modern war. Canad had not foughtv awar since the War of 1812 with Amnerica.

Civilian Mobilization

The country mobilized to support the war effort and their soldiers at the front. The Red Cross played an important role. Rationing was instituted.

Participation

Britain declared war, but the Canadian Government through its Parliament controlled the level of participation. Prime Minister Robert Borden believed stringly that Canada's was linked Britain. He committed "to put forth every effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honour of our Empire." He nelieved that Canada's war effort could be fulfilled through voluntary recruitment. Brirain at the beginning of the War also did not have conscriotion. Nor did he think that vthe Canadian Hoverment had to control the country's war effort. Here the country's limited military experience was a factor.

Wars Measures Act (1914)

The Canadian Parliament within days of entering the war passed the War Measures Act with little debate (August 2914). The Act was based on a similar Brutish measure. It granted the Government sweeping powers. The Government was granted the authority to undertake any action seen as necessary "for the security, defence, peace, order and welfare of Canada." The Government was given control over transportation, trade and commerce, and property; censorship of the means of communication, which at the time primarily meant newspapers; and the right to arrest and deport suspected enemies.

Public Opinion

There were differences of opinions about the War. Most English speaking Canadians believed that Britain was right and that Germany and Austria-Hungary were tyranies waging an aggressive war. The most enthusiastic were those with the closest ties with Britain. This was especially true of recent immigrants with family in Britain. The least enthusiastic were French Canadians. Although France was the country most threatened, few French Canadians had family ties to France. Most saw it as a British war and wanted no part in it.

Red Cross

Dr. Ryerson organized the Canadian branch of the Red Cross (1896). He also founded the St. John Ambulance Association in Canada (1895). This proved to be the first overseas branch in the British Empire and actually the first such overseas branch of any national Red Cross brach anywhere. Pne of its first acts was to raise funds to humanitarian relief of combatants on both sides of the Spanish-American War. The Canadian Red Cross played a prominant role in th Bohr War (1899-1902). Some 65 local Red Cross branches were formed across Canada to collect food, clothing and money for the sick and wounded. The Red Cross appointedf Dr. Ryerson Commissioner and authorized to take the relief supplies and funds to South Africa. School children helped in the effort. Children in St. Mary's, Ontario helped pack parcels for the British soldiers. The flefgling Red Cross polayed a much larger role in World War I from the very beginning of the conflict. The national organization ,obilized a major effort to collect funds. Community campaigns were organizedcand received generous support. They raised $275,000 in 1914. Canadian supplied and funds were soon flowing to more than 100 hospitals and other charitable institutions caring for wounded soldiers. Most were based in England where British and Canadian casulties were geberally evacuated ti for care. The Canadian Red Cross also operated ambulances. Red Cross women volunteers also worked iat home. They knitted khaki sweaters and grey socks for the soldiers, And they sewed dressings, bandages, surgical coveralls and bed linen. The Red Cross also help prepare and transport parcels to the soldiers and assisted with POW activities.

Boy Scouts


Conscription

Many English speaking Canadians volunteered. Few French-Canadiand did so. As the War comtinued, the need for man power at the front increased and conscription became a major political issue. French Canadians in particular were opposed to subscription.

Agriculture

Canada's vast agricultural production made an important contribution to the Allied war effort.






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Created: 2:23 AM 10/3/2009
Last updated: 2:23 AM 10/3/2009