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


The Rise and Fall of Prohibition in Canada (Part One)

Tree of Intemperance by Archibald Macbrair (c. 1855) – This is an American cartoon, but I think it best sums up the temperance movement. To supporters, alcohol was the root of social and moral evils.

Continuing our look into ridiculous events in Canadian history: Prohibition. The banning of alcohol has a bit of a convoluted history in Canada. Unlike in the United States were the Volstead Act was a federal bill that banned alcohol nationwide from 1920-1933, prohibition was a matter largely left up to the Canadian provinces and therefore happened stages and at different times. By-and-large, the provinces instituted the ban during World War One and repealed it during the 1920s (minus a few exceptions) because not only was prohibition a major failure, it was vastly unpopular. It wasn’t always that way though. Before we get to the “fall” aka speakeasies, rum-running, and all that fun stuff, we have to cover the “rise.” This post will look at how prohibition came to be in Canada. Continue reading

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 POWs: First World War Edition

Group of Canadian officers at a prisoner-of-war camp near Krefeld, Germany. 1917. [Source]

During the First World War, 132 Canadian officers and 3,715 individuals from the Canadian Expeditionary Force were taken prisoner. The largest number of these, over 1,400, were taken in a single day in 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres, when the 1st Canadian Division was first introduced to chlorine gas by the Germans. The 3rd Canadian Division also suffered a large number of prisoners at Mount Sorrel in June 1916. Over 500 men were captured in one day. In addition, an unknown number of Canadian civilians (largely students studying abroad, businessmen, and sailors) were captured as well. By the end of the war, 300 Canadian soldiers had died in captivity along the western front.

After they were captured, what was the general experience of Canadian prisoners of war during World War One? Continue reading

Veterans’ Stories: Morkin and Strachan

Lt. Harcus Strachan, Fort Garry Horse, Dec 1917. Photo digitally colourized by Canadian Colour. Would you be able to charge towards machine gun fire on a horse with a sword as your only weapon like Strachan did?

On November 11th every year, we honour the millions of Canadians who have fought, served, and died in for their country over the past century. However, most stories don’t get told. Many acts of bravery and sacrifice are forgotten. That’s why for Remembrance Day this year I thought I would changes things up and share two veterans’ stories: Martha Morkin, a Nursing Sister from World War I and Harcus Strachan, a veteran of both world wars and a Victoria Cross recipient. Although (spoiler alert) both survived, their experiences exemplify the horrors of war and why working towards maintaining peace is never a fool’s cause. Continue reading

Beaumont-Hamel: What Went Wrong?

“Young people lay wreaths during a service to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial in Thiepval, France.” [Source]

This past Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. July 1, 1916 was one of the worst days in British military history. Of the 57,470 British casualties on that one day, 19,240 were killed; most of which occurred within the first two hours. Within those numbers lies the majority of the First Newfoundland Regiment. Before the soldiers went over the top, they were over 800 strong. How is that only 68 men were able to answer roll call the following day? What exactly went wrong and why does the disaster at Beaumont-Hamel still resonate today? 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

Busting Out of a WW1 German Prison Camp

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 and I offer my opinion on the subject.

Maj. Pete Anderson, his wife, Mary, and their children. Anderson is believed to be the only Canadian officer to escape from a German prison camp during the First World War. Provincial Archives of Alberta. [Source]

During the First World War, 3,842 Canadians were taken prisoner by enemy armies. Most made it home post-war, however scores died from pneumonia, typhus, and starvation due to the poor conditions and limited resources within the prison camps. Of these POWs only one man, Major Peter Anderson, managed to escape. The Edmonton Journal detailed his story earlier this month. This guy was a boss. Not only did Anderson bust out of the camp, he successfully travelled across Germany to get to safety in Denmark despite encountering German officials along the way. He also did all this while wearing his officer uniform. If that’s not enough after he got back to England, Anderson wrote a smug letter to the prison camp officers and then went right back to fighting for the Canadian Forces. So who was this guy and how exactly did pull off his great escape?

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

Mother Canada: What’s the Big Deal?

Update (Feb 5, 2016) – Parks Canada Pulls Support for Mother Canada Monument

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 and I offer my opinion on the subject.

Artist’s rendition of the proposed Mother Canada statue. Click for a larger image. [Source]

Have you heard about the recent Mother Canada controversy yet?

Long story made short: The Conservative government wants to spend 25 million dollars to construct an 8-storey statue of a sad, veiled woman with her arms stretched out towards Europe on the eastern edge of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Some people are for it, others are completely against it. A quick Google search will reveal tons of news reports and editorials exploring the proposal from every perspective. With all the different opinions surrounding the issue, I decided to make things easy and break it all down for you here. Continue reading