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In the early 20th Century, the Ross rifle, a Canadian-made infantry rifle, was produced as an alternative to the British-made Lee-Enfield rifle. The Ross rifle was used during the First World War, where it gained a reputation as an unreliable weapon among Canadian soldiers. By 1916, the Ross had been mostly replaced by the Lee-Enfield.
First World War (WWI)
The First World War of 1914–1918 was the bloodiest conflict in Canadian history, taking the lives of more than 60,000 Canadians.
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)
Since its inception in 1924, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has served Canadians in peace and war. It played a vital role in the Second World War, becoming the fourth-largest Allied air force, and reached its "golden age" in the late 1950s, with dozens of combat squadrons on the front lines of the Cold War. The term Royal, dropped from the name in 1968, was returned to the air force in 2011.
Canadian Red Ensign
The Canadian Red Ensign was the de facto Canadian national flag from 1868 until 1965. It was based on the ensign flown by British merchant ships since 1707. The three successive formal designs of the Canadian Red Ensign bore the Canadian coats of arms of 1868, 1921 and 1957. In 1891, it was described by the Governor General, Lord Stanley, as “the Flag which has come to be considered as the recognized Flag of the Dominion both afloat and ashore.” Though it was never formally adopted as Canada’s national flag, the Canadian Red Ensign represented Canada as a nation until it was replaced by the maple leaf design in 1965.
Canadian Armed Forces
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is the military arm of the federal government. Its role is to defend Canada’s security, interests and values and to contribute to international peace and security. There are 68,000 Regular Force and 27,000 Reserve Force members in the CAF, which includes the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Air Force. Members of these three services can also be assigned to different commands, including Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). The CAF is supported by 24,000 DND civilians, who are not part of the CAF.
Leonard Braithwaite (Primary Source)
Leonard Braithwaite served with the Canadian Air Force as a Safety Equipment Operator from 1943 to 1946. However, he was rejected multiple times at a Toronto recruiting station because he was Black. Read and listen to the story of how Braithwaite overcame adversity and served overseas.
Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of the Memory Project and Historica Canada.
The North American Air Defense Agreement (NORAD) was a pact made in 1957, at the height of the Cold War. It placed under joint command the air forces of Canada and the United States. Its name was later changed to the North American Aerospace Defense Command; but it kept the NORAD acronym. Canada and the US renewed NORAD in 2006, making the arrangement permanent. It is subject to review every four years, or at the request of either country. NORAD’s mission was also expanded into maritime warnings. The naval forces of the two countries remain under separate commands.
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.
Flag of Canada: Alternate Designs
A national flag is a simple, effective way of identifying a country and expressing its collective will and sovereignty. Its symbolism should be expansive, representing perspectives from across the country. But it should also be singular, offering a picture of unity. For almost a century, Canada did not fly a flag of its own. There were instead the Union Jack and the Canadian Red Ensign. They took turns flying above Parliament. But neither was distinctly Canadian, nor permanent. The issue of a new flag was raised in Parliament in 1925 and again in 1945. It was dropped both times due to a lack of consent. Some clung to tradition, and none could agree on a unifying symbol. When Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson re-opened the debate in 1964, he offered Canadians the chance to “say proudly to the world and to the future: ‘I stand for Canada.’” A joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons was assembled to decide on a suitable design. After months of vigorous debate, the final design was unfurled at Parliament Hill on 15 February 1965. The design process was open to the public. Thousands of suggestions were submitted. This article looks at 12 of those designs. It includes explanations for the symbols found in each. The designs express a vision for Canada, still young and still finding its mode of self-expression.
Documenting the Second World War
When Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939, tens of thousands of Canadians enlisted to serve in the army, navy, air force and supporting services. The military scrambled to buy equipment, train recruits and prepare for war. Little thought was given, at first, to documenting the war effort. By 1940, however, the military was recruiting historians, most notably Charles Stacey, to collect records and write accounts of Canadian operations. In the following years, artists, photographers and filmmakers also served with the various branches of the armed forces. Today, their diligent work provides a rich visual and written catalogue of Canada’s history in the Second World War.
Acceleration is a thriller about teenage slackers in Toronto who track down a mysterious psychopath. The mystery by Canadian author Graham McNamee was first published in hardcover by Wendy Lamb Books in 2003. It was released in paperback by Ember in 2012. Acceleration won a prestigious Edgar Award as best young adult mystery from the Mystery Writers of America, as well as an Arthur Ellis Award for excellence in Canadian crime writing from the Crime Writers of Canada. It was also included in the “Best Books for Young Adults” list compiled by the American Library Association in 2004.
Life of Pi
Yann Martel’s third novel, Life of Pi (2001), follows protagonist Piscine “Pi” Patel on a journey of survival after the cargo ship carrying him and his family sinks in the Pacific Ocean. As the lone survivor, Pi spends 227 days on a lifeboat in the company of a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The fantasy-adventure novel explores the tensions between spirituality and practicality, and between reason and imagination. It also raises questions about the nature of stories. The international bestseller gained Martel global recognition and won a number of awards and accolades, including the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. The 2012 film adaptation, written by David Magee and directed by Ang Lee, grossed more than US$600 million worldwide and won four Academy Awards.
Bloc populaire canadien
The Bloc populaire canadien is an anti-conscription and nationalist political party of the 1940s. The party participated in federal elections and in Quebec provincial elections. The Bloc received some minor electoral successes, but, by 1948, its influence had drastically diminished and the party faded away.
Eric Walters’s young adult novel Shattered (2006) tells the story of Ian Blackburn. He is shaken out of his privileged life when he meets Jack, a homeless veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. A member of the failed United Nations peacekeeping mission to Rwanda, Jack introduces Ian to some of humanity’s darkest moments. Shattered received the 2007 Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award for best Canadian children’s book and the 2007 National Chapter of Canada International Order of the Daughters of Empire Violet Downey Book Award.
Crow Lake is the debut novel by Mary Lawson, a Canadian-born author who lives in Britain. Set in a fictional community in Northern Ontario, Crow Lake tells the story of four children who are orphaned after their parents are killed in a traffic accident. Published in 2002, the novel was a best-seller in Canada and the United States. It has been published in more than two dozen countries and in several languages. It won the Books in Canada First Novel Award (now the Amazon.com First Novel Award) in 2003, as well as the McKitterick Prize for a first novel published in the United Kingdom by an author older than 40. In 2010, CBC Radio listeners selected Crow Lake as one of the Top 40 essential Canadian novels of the decade. It was also listed as one of 150 books to read for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations in 2017.
William Bell’s first novel, Crabbe (1986), tells the story of a disaffected teenager who escapes to the wilderness, only to learn that running away will not solve his problems. Crabbe has become a popular choice for school curricula across North America. A 2017 study found that it was among the 20 most-cited books in Ontario classrooms. It was one of only three Canadian books on the list, along with Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. The literary quarterly Canadian Literature attributed the book’s longevity to its “convincing narrative voice” and “precisely observed sense of detail.”
The First Stone
Award-wining writer Don Aker’s The First Stone tells the story of Reef, an embittered and troubled young man who, in a mindless rage, hurls a rock from an overpass and injures Leeza, who is in mourning for an older sister. The two teenagers unexpectedly come together to begin the slow process of healing. The First Stone was first published in 2003 by HarperTrophy Canada. It won the Ontario Library Association’s White Pine Award and Atlantic Canada’s Ann Connor Brimer Award in 2004. It was also one of five young adult novels selected for CBC Radio’s “Young Canada Reads” series in 2006.
Railway History in Canada
The development of steam-powered railways in the 19th century revolutionized transportation in Canada and was integral to the very act of nation building. Railways played an integral role in the process of industrialization, opening up new markets and tying regions together, while at the same time creating a demand for resources and technology. The construction of transcontinental railways such as the Canadian Pacific Railway opened up settlement in the West, and played an important role in the expansion of Confederation. However, railways had a divisive effect as well, as the public alternately praised and criticized the involvement of governments in railway construction and the extent of government subsidies to railway companies.