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Banner: From Colony to Country: A Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History

Canadian Military History: An Overview
War of 1812
Rebellions of 1837 and 1838
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First World War
Second World War

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First World War

Those who lived through the First World War referred to it as the Great War for the rest of their lives, even though another world war followed within a generation. For Canadians, there was a particular element of truth in this. Canada began the war as a British colony, and was at war by declaration of the mother country. Peace returned with Canada as a separate signatory to the Treaty of Versailles, an independent country confident in its ability to manage its own affairs. The war marked the transition of Canada's armed forces from a militia of questionable value to what was probably the most powerful army corps on either side in the conflict; a force capable of planning and executing independent operations, beginning with the Easter Monday, 1917, assault on Vimy Ridge. Maintenance of the Canadian Corps through four years of attrition on the Western Front demanded a supply of personnel which a volunteer enlistment system could not provide and the subsequent imposition of conscription for overseas service, in August 1917, involved the country in an intense political convulsion. Thus, the young nation was being split at home even as war overseas brought the greatest expression of nationalism in its history to that time. This came at great cost.

From a population of some 8 million, over 600 000 served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and nearly 60 000 lost their lives, 87 percent of these as a direct result of enemy action in France and Flanders. More than 154 000 were wounded, some several times, and this does not include the mental and emotional casualties, which no one recorded. Soldiers and civilians alike, after four years of hard work and rationing, succumbed to the influenza epidemic that followed the war. Scarcely a community, large or small, in Canada had escaped the dreadful effects of the war without casualties and broken lives.

The scope of the conflict also caused profound changes in the economy and in society as a whole. Not only did Canada's armed forces need to be equipped on a heretofore unprecedented scale, but Canada became a major supplier to Britain through the Imperial Munitions Board. The war created a vast demand for Canadian agricultural production, which resulted in consolidation and permanence for the previous two decades' somewhat fragile expansion of farming and associated settlement into the Northwest. With a considerable portion of Canadian men overseas, women came into business and industry in unprecedented numbers and, as in other countries, their enhanced economic role led increasingly to demands for voting rights as a means to political power.

What follows here are only examples, drawn from the very large literature concerning Canada and the First World War. A reader seeking the complete published record on any individual topic listed below should start by consulting the more detailed published bibliographies.


The authors have included the English edition of works if they are available in both French and English. Items marked with an asterisk (*) are known to be available in French. Most titles included in this guide are held by Library and Archives Canada, and many are available for interlibrary loan, both within Canada and abroad.