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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Canada and the Dutch Hunger Winter
The Dutch Hunger Winter was a severe food crisis that took place in the Netherlands in 1944–45, during the Second World War. By the time the country was liberated by Canadian and Allied forces in May 1945, around 20,000 Dutch people had died from the famine. With liberation came an influx of food and other provisions for the starving population. The Canadian role in liberating the Netherlands resulted in a lasting relationship between the two countries.
First Canadian Army
The First Canadian Army was a field army formed in 1942 during the Second World War. It became an international force in 1943, when Allied units were added to keep the army up to strength. The First Canadian Army was commanded by A.G.L. McNaughton and H.D.G. “Harry” Crerar.
Liberation of the Netherlands
In the final months of the Second World War, Canadian forces were given the important and deadly task of liberating the Netherlands from Nazi occupation. From September 1944 to April 1945, the First Canadian Army fought German forces on the Scheldt estuary — opening the port of Antwerp for Allied use — and then cleared northern and western Netherlands of Germans, allowing food and other relief to reach millions of desperate people. More than 7,600 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen died fighting in the Netherlands. Today, Canada is fondly remembered by the Dutch for ending their oppression under the Nazis.
Battle of Ortona
In December 1943, as part of the Allied advance through Italy during the Second World War, Canadian forces fought one of their toughest battles of the war in a bid to capture the town of Ortona. The month-long campaign — first at the Moro River outside Ortona, then with vicious street fighting in the town itself — cost more than 2,300 Canadian casualties, but eventually won Ortona for the Allies.
The Conquest of New France
The Conquest (La Conquête) is a term used to describe the acquisition of Canada by Great Britain during the Seven Years’ War. It also refers to the resulting conditions experienced by Canada’s 60,000 to 70,000 French-speaking inhabitants and numerous Indigenous groups. French forces at Quebec City surrendered to British forces on 18 September 1759, a few days after the crucial Battle of the Plains of Abraham. French resistance ended in 1760 with the capitulation of Montreal. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris surrendered New France to Britain. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 introduced assimilative policies that ultimately failed. They were replaced by the provisions of the Quebec Act of 1774. Although it helped spark the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), the Act also granted Canadians enviable conditions that resulted in generations of relative stability.
Timothy Findley’s 1977 novel about the mental and physical destruction of a young Canadian soldier in the First World War won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English Language Fiction. It is widely regarded as one of the country’s definitive historical war novels. It has been called “one of the most remarkable novels of war ever published” and “the finest historical novel ever written by a Canadian.” The Globe and Mail referred to The Wars as “the great Canadian novel about the First World War.”
During the Second World War, on 19 August 1942, the Allies launched a major raid on the French coastal port of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies' ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler's "Fortress Europe." The raid was a disaster: More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Despite the bloodshed, the raid provided valuable lessons for subsequent Allied amphibious assaults on Africa, Italy and Normandy.
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 Stevens, Frances Loringand Florence Wyle were commissioned by the Fund to visually document the war effort in Canada.
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.