The Great War: 100 Years Later (Then and Now)

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

A man stands before the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Arras, France. [Source]

November 11th, 2018 at 11:00am marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. Beginning on July 28, 1914, “the war of end all wars” eventually spread to the far corners of the earth, embroiling much of the world in–still to this day–one of the deadliest conflict in history.

By the Numbers:
9,900,000+ soldiers died
7,000,000+ civilians killed
21,000,000+ military personnel wounded

425,000+ Canadians served overseas
Almost 60,000 were killed
172,000+ were wounded
1,305 died in the Halifax Explosion

To put those numbers in prospective, Canada’s population was around 8,000,000 at the time. With all this in mind, this post is meant to honour not just the Canadians who served, but all those across the world who died. Below the cut are some photos that not only show what places looked like back then in comparison to today, but the lasting scars and how landscapes were altered. For more then and now photos, please check out the listed sources. Continue reading

Ortona: Was It Worth It?

A Canadian soldier at the Battle of Ortona. December 1943. [Source: Canada at War]

The Canadian Forces faced one of their toughest battles during World War II during December 1943. Their goal? Capture the small coastal town of Ortona, Italy. The Canadians fought their way through rubble-covered narrow streets, booby-trapped houses, machine-gun fire, and concealed landmines throughout the town. As the CBC described it, Ortona was a battle in the “courtyard of hell.” The Canadians were successful in the end, but at a cost of 2,200 casualties. Was it worth it? (Shout out to GP Cox for inspiring me to research this battle!) Continue reading

1917 Vs. 2017

Happy Canada Day!

Today marks our sesquicentennial aka the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

I’m currently in Ottawa taking in the festivities. As such, here is a mini post dedicated 100 years ago today–Canada’s golden year.

Dominion Day / 50th Anniversary of Confederation (1917)

The 50th anniversary of Confederation was low-key. At the time the country was consumed by the devastating Great War and was being torn apart by the Conscription Crisis. According to the Ottawa Citizen, an official ceremony took place at noon on Monday, July 2 on Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Robert Borden, Opposition Leader Wilfrid Laurier, and Governor General Victor Cavendish each gave a speech in front of the under-construction Parliament Buildings. The Centre Block had burned down the year prior.  After a choir sang O Canada, the Centre Block was officially dedicated to the Fathers of Confederation and those fighting in the Great War. The final part of the ceremony involved a parade of 7 military units, 250 veterans, Dominion police, city police, fire brigade, boy scouts, and girl guides.

While it annoys me to no end that I could not find any pictures of the ceremony in Ottawa, here are some photos of Canadians celebrating on July 1-2, 1917:

Fun Fact: Dominion Day was renamed Canada Day in 1982.

Images courtesy of:
Library and Archives Canada + “Alice’s Album”
Vancouver Public Library
Niagara Falls Public Library

Vimy Ridge Resource Post

Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge (c. April 1917). [Source] – This is a colourized version of arguably the most famous photo from the battle. Click here for the original.

100 years ago today, for the first time the Canadian Corps’ four divisions came together on the battlefield. The Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 9-12, 1917) was fought over what historian Tim Cook describes as an “open graveyard,” as it was the sight of over 100,000 previous French casualties. Over the course of four days, the Canadians Corps succeeded where earlier Allied assaults had failed. They overtook the heavily-fortified, seven-kilometre ridge and pushed the Germans back to the Oppy–Méricourt line. In the process, 3,598 Canadians were killed and another 7,004 were wounded. Years later, Vimy Ridge would be seen as Canada’s most important battle of World War One.

I have mostly avoided talking about Vimy Ridge because it is the most heavily discussed, analyzed, and mythologized battle in Canadian history. After all, what is there to add when even the debate over whether Vimy was “the birth of a nation” appears to have come full circle? Nevertheless, to honour the occasion, I created a massive resource post full of information, resources, pictures, videos, art, for all those interested in the battle and the legacy of Vimy Ridge.
Continue reading

Canadian Travel Ads (1940s-1960s)

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

It is hard to pinpoint when tourism began in Canada. Some consider European explorers of the 16th century to be the first Canadian tourists. Others argue it was the creation of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 19th century that really got things rolling because with modernization came with the development of cars and airplanes.

The postwar era was a peak time for Canadian tourism. From 1945-1960, most tourists preferred to travel to a handful of developed countries; the top 15 destinations received 97% of international tourists. In 1950, after the United States, Canada was the second most popular place to visit. Contrast that today with those same 15 destinations receiving only 55% of tourists and as of 2014 Canada has dropped to 18th on the list.

Travel ads during this time had the general look of postwar era advertising. Poster and magazine design had become an art form and drew heavily from the modernism and art deco movements. Artists utilized rich colours and bold geometric shapes to catch the attention of prospective tourists. As a result, many vintage Canadian travel ads all have a similar look: bright, eye-catching paintings, big, happy faces, occasionally a lot of descriptive text. There are some other similarities as well. See if you can spot them by clicking on the images below. Continue reading

Canada’s Olympic History: Summer Edition

Canadian History in the News: The past is always a part of the present. This blog series looks at current events and stories that have a Canadian history element to them.

Penny Oleksiak holds up the four medals that she has won over the course of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Canadian Olympic Committee have not announced it yet, but Oleksiak is widely expected to be Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony on Sunday. [Source]

If you have been following the Rio 2016 Olympics, you will know that sixteen year old Penny Oleksiak now holds a unique spot in Canadian Olympic history as she is the first Canadian to win four medals in a single Summer Games. Also, the gold medal she is holding makes her Canada’s youngest Olympic champion. So far Canadian athletes have won 13 medals* in total during the 2016 Olympics. Yesterday marked the end of our nine-day medal streak, the longest of any Summer or Winter Games. Hearing about the achievements of our athletes in Rio got me thinking about our past performances in the Olympics. Here is a look back at some of the best (and worst) moments from Canada’s history at the Summer Games.

* Update – Canada finished the Rio Olympics with 22 medals in total; 4 golds, 3 silvers, and 15 bronze medals. Continue reading

Images from a Forgotten War

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

“Canadian soldiers catch a ride after a lengthy patrol,” (June 1951 by Philip Plastow) [Source]

Did you know that over 26,000 Canadian men and women served in the Korean War and its aftermath? If you didn’t, you’re not alone. The Korean War (1950-1953) is often referred to as “The Forgotten War” not just by Canadians, but by veterans of the conflict at large. The term was originally coined by U.S. News & World Report in 1951 to describe how most people weren’t interested in news regarding Korea.

Today there are many initiatives (like The Memory Project: Korea) dedicated to “remembering” this Forgotten War, but the conflict still doesn’t garner the same sort of attention that others do. This blog is a good example considering that this is my first post on the subject. I plan to explore the Korean War in greater depth in future posts, but first things first: a visual overview. Continue reading

Canadian WWI Political Cartoons

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

Eye-catching posters weren’t the only art form during the First World War designed to deliver a message to the Canadian public. Newspapers across the country utilized their artists to depict the war abroad through political cartoons. However, unlike the government  and the Red Cross, their agendas weren’t always pro-war. This post takes a look at how political cartoons changed overtime as the journalists and the public’s opinion of the war began to sour as the years went on. Also, we will be looking at other issues that arose during the Great War and how Canadian cartoonists responded to them as well. Continue reading

Snapshots: The Siksika Nation (c. 1880s)

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

Bobtail, Cree Chief, Alberta. (A. Ross, 1886)

Did you know studio photography was all the rage back in the 1880s? Yup, the above photo is authentic and not a historical recreation. The photographer, Alexander J. Ross (1851-1894), captured many different First Nations men and women on film between 1884-1891. This post takes a look at Ross’ photographic career and the history of the Siksika Nation at large, as he took the most photos of them. Continue reading

The End of World War II in Canada

Snapshots of Canada’s Past: History is more than just words on a screen or from a textbook; this series is a thematic look back at Canadian history through visual imagery.

Monday, May 7, 1945 edition of The Evening Telegram (a Toronto newspaper).

Neither Victory in Europe Day nor Victory over Japan Day took place on November 11th. Today’s date belongs to the anniversary of the end of World War I. By the time World War II ended, Armistice Day had been observed by Canada since 1919. It was formally renamed “Remembrance Day” and placed on November 11th back in 1931. For Remembrance Day in 1945, Canadians had much to be grateful for as not one but two chapters of war had come to a close earlier that year. Continue reading