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Editorial: Canadian Art and the Great War

Canadian painting in the 19th century tended towards the pastoral. It depicted idyllic scenes of rural life and represented the country as a wondrous Eden. Canadian painter Homer Watson, under the influence of such American masters as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, created images that are serene and suffused with golden light. In On the Mohawk River (1878), for instance, a lazy river ambles between tall, overhanging trees; in the background is a light-struck mountain. In Watson’s world, nature is peaceful, unthreatening and perhaps even sacred.

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Laura Secord

Laura Secord, née Ingersoll, Loyalist, mythologized historic figure (born 13 September 1775 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts; died 17 October 1868 in Chippawa [Niagara Falls], ON).

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Molly Lamb Bobak

Molly Joan Bobak, née Lamb, CM, ONB, RCA, artist, teacher (born 25 February 1920 in Vancouver, BC; died 1 March 2014 in Fredericton, NB). Molly Lamb Bobak joined the Canadian Women’s Army Corps in 1942. In 1945, she became the first woman to be named an official Canadian war artist. She led workshops across Canada, gave live art lessons on television and served on many boards and arts councils. She was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and received honorary degrees from the University of New Brunswick, Mount Allison University and St. Thomas University. She was appointed to the  Order of Canada in 1995 and to the Order of New Brunswick in 2002.  

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Feo Monck

Frances Elizabeth Owen “Feo” Monck, author (born 1 August 1835 in Charleville, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland; died 31 July 1919). Feo Monck’s brother-in-law was governor general Viscount Monck, and her husband, Richard Monck, was military secretary to the governor general from 1864 to 1869. When Lady Monck was absent, she acted as the hostess for viceregal social occasions, including the ball held during the Quebec Conference of 1864. She recorded her experiences in the book, My Canadian Leaves: An Account of a Visit to Canada in 1864–1865.

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Representing the Home Front: The Women of the Canadian War Memorials Fund

While they may not have had access to the battlefields, a number of Canadian women artists made their mark on the visual culture of the First World War by representing the home front. First among these were the women affiliated with the Canadian War Memorials Fund, Canada’s first official war art program. Founded in 1916, the stated goal of the Fund was to provide “suitable Memorials in the form of Tablets, Oil-Paintings, etc. […], to the Canadian Heroes and Heroines in the War.” Expatriates Florence Carlyle and Caroline Armington participated in the program while overseas. Artists Henrietta Mabel May, Dorothy StevensFrances Loringand Florence Wyle were commissioned by the Fund to visually document the war effort in Canada.

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Mary Riter Hamilton

Mary Matilda Hamilton (née Riter), artist (born 7 September c. 1867 in Teeswater, ON; died 5 April 1954 in Coquitlam, BC). Mary Riter Hamilton was a painter who exhibited her works in Europe and across Canada. Shortly after the fighting stopped, Hamilton travelled to Europe to paint First World War battlefield landscapes before they were cleared (see War Artists). She produced over 350 works in three years, which are a document of the destruction and devastation caused by the war.

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Tommy Prince

Thomas George Prince, war hero, Indigenous advocate (born 25 October 1915 in Petersfield, MB; died 25 November 1977 in Winnipeg, MB). Tommy Prince is one of Canada's most-decorated Indigenous war veterans, having been awarded a total of 11 medals in the Second World War and the Korean War. Although homeless when he died, he was honoured at his funeral by his First Nation, the province of Manitoba, Canada and the governments of France, Italy and the United States. (See also Indigenous Peoples and the World Wars.)

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Ku Klux Klan

The Ku Klux Klan is an outlawed, racist, ultra-conservative, fraternal organization dedicated to the supremacy of an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant society.

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Documenting the First World War

The First World War forever changed Canada. Some 630,000 Canadians enlisted from a nation of not yet eight million. More than 66,000 were killed. As the casualties mounted on the Western Front, an expatriate Canadian, Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), organized a program to document Canada’s war effort through art, photography and film. This collection of war art, made both in an official capacity and by soldiers themselves, was another method of forging a legacy of Canada’s war effort.

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Arthur Roy Brown

Arthur Roy Brown, fighter pilot and ace, businessman, civil aviation pioneer (born 23 December 1893 in Carleton Place, Ontario; died 9 March 1944 in Stouffville, Ontario). Brown is credited with killing Germany’s top First World War ace, Manfred von Richthofen, the famed “Red Baron.” Richthofen may, however, have been shot down by two Australian army machine-gunners.

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Sam Steele

Sir Samuel Benfield Steele, CB, KCMG, mounted policeman, soldier (born 5 January 1848 in Medonte, Canada West; died 30 January 1919 in London, England). As a member of the North-West Mounted Police, Steele was an important participant in the signing of Treaty 6 and Treaty 7, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the North-West Rebellion and the Klondike gold rush. His military career began as a private in the Red River Expedition, included service in the South African War as an officer commanding Lord Strathcona’s Horse and as a major general during the First World War.

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Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial

Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil de Cavagnial, Marquis de Vaudreuil, (sometimes Vaudreuil-Cavagnial), officer, last governor general of New France 1755–1760 (born in Québec, New-France on 22 November 1698; died in Paris, France 4 August 1778). He was the governor of New France during the Seven Years’ War and the British Conquest of New France. Following the capture of Quebec by British forces, Vaudreuil signed the capitulation of Montreal and New France in 1760.

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Igor Gouzenko

Igor Sergeievitch Gouzenko, Soviet intelligence officer, author (born 26 January 1919 in Rogachev, Russia; died 25 June 1982 in Mississauga, ON). Igor Gouzenko was a Soviet cipher clerk stationed at the Soviet Union’s Ottawa embassy during the Second World War. Just weeks after the end of the war, Gouzenko defected to the Canadian government with proof that his country had been spying on its wartime allies: Canada, Britain and the United States. This prompted what is known as the Gouzenko Affair. Gouzenko sought asylum for himself and his family in Canada. His defection caused a potentially dangerous international crisis. Many historians consider it the beginning of the Cold War.

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Charles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck

Charles Stanley Monck, 4th Viscount Monck of Ballytrammon, governor general of British North America, captain general and governor of British North America from 1861 to 1867 and governor general of Canada from 1867 to 1868 (born 10 October 1819 in Templemore, County Tipperary, Ireland; died 29 November 1894 in Charleville, Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland). Monck supported Confederation and became the first governor general of the Dominion of Canada.

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Canadian War Art Programs

Since the First World War, there have been four major initiatives to allow Canadian artists to document Canadian Armed Forcesat war. Canada’s first official war art program, the Canadian War Memorials Fund (1916–19), was one of the first government-sponsored programs of its kind. It was followed by the Canadian War Art Program (1943–46) during the Second World War. The Canadian Armed Forces Civilian Artists Program (1968–95) and the Canadian Forces Artists Program (2001–present) were established to send civilian artists to combat and peacekeepingzones. Notable Canadian war artists have included A.Y. Jackson, F.H. Varley, Lawren Harris, Alex Colville and Molly Lamb Bobak.

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Tom Thomson

Thomas John Thomson, painter (born 5 August 1877 in Claremont, ON; died 8 July 1917 in Algonquin Provincial Park, ON). Tom Thomson was the most influential and enduringly popular Canadian artist of the early 20th century. An intense, wry and gentle artist with a canny sensibility, he was an early inspiration for what became the Group of Seven. He was one of the first painters to give acute visual form to the Canadian landscape. His works portray the natural world in a way that is poetic but still informed by direct experience. Many of his paintings, such as The West Wind (1916–17) and The Jack Pine (1916–17), have become icons of Canadian culture. He produced about 50 canvases and more than 400 sketches in his short professional career. His legend only grew after his untimely death at the age of 39.