When you see Canada being mentioned around the world, you’ll find that most people associate Canada with things like maple leaves, politeness, poutine and now Prime Minister Trudeau. Everybody knows about our free healthcare, clean and beautiful landscape, and the overall amazing quality of life that comes with living in Canada. These are iconic symbols of Canadian pride, but there is much more to Canada. Canada has lived with and through conflicts from prehistory to the present day.
Canadian history is marked with years of armed actions in the area we now know as modern Canada, and the Canadian military has actively participated in conflicts and peacekeeping missions worldwide. We begin by acknowledging the Indigenous land that we stand on. Armed conflicts, of course, would have taken place on the land that is present-day Canada far before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century—between various First Nations. It was during the 16th century however that conflicts began between Aboriginal Peoples and colonizing Europeans began.
“Aboriginal Canadians are First Nations, Métis and [the Inuit] who occupied Canada long before Europeans had even set foot on the land that is present-day Canada. These native Canadians lived off the land as Indigenous groups of people—until the Europeans came to claim the land for themselves.
Like almost every expedition and colonization—the Indigenous people suffered. During the early 17th century, French missionaries attempted to convert [Aboriginal Peoples] to Christianity. Furthermore, European diseases, such as smallpox, killed many natives who did not have resistance to these foreign diseases.”(1)
All the while, the French/English rivalry continued for Canadian colonization and after the Seven Years War in 1763, the Treaty of Paris was signed. Years later, in 1774, the British Crown extended the French territory to Quebec which gave way for French culture and the traditions that would make up the Province of Quebec.
During the American War of Independence (1812), the Americans launched an invasion across the northern US border in 1812. In July, Britain succeeded in capturing Detroit. In October 1812 at the Battle of Queenston Heights, the Americans were defeated by a combined force of British regular troops and colonial militia under Sir Isaac Brock, who lost his life in the battle. The First Nations of The Iroquois, the Caughnawagas, and the Shawnee (under Chief Tecumseh) played an important part in many battles and on many occasions, this had a psychologically debilitating impact on their enemy. The war finally ended in 1814 when America and Britain signed a peace treaty to restore pre-war borders.
Although the British were initially concerned about an American invasion due to their proximity (construction of numerous military strong points like the Citadels at Quebec and Halifax, Fort Henry in Kingston and The Rideau Canal in Ottawa were a direct result of this fear); eventually both sides saw the benefits of amicable relations. In 1867 Canada became a self-governing Dominion. In 1871, British troops were completely withdrawn from Canada.In 1884 during The Second Boer War, Canadians in South Africa were acclaimed for leading the charge at the Second Battle of Paardeberg, one of the first decisive victories of the war. At the Battle of Liliefontein, about 7,400 Canadians, including 12 female nurses, served in South Africa. Of these, 224 died, 252 were wounded, and several were decorated with the Victoria Cross
The first decade of the century saw the creation of the Royal Canadian Navy in 1910. By now the British troops had all but completely left Canada, which led to the creation of the following positions within the Canadian Army:
■ Canadian Engineer Corps (created 1 Jul 1903)
■ Signalling Corps (created 24 Oct 1903)
■ Canadian Army Service Corps 1 Dec 1903
■ Permanent Active Militia Army Medical Corps 2 Jul 1904
■ Ordnance Stores Corps 1 Jul 1903
■ Corps of Guides 1902
The First World War
On August 4, 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany, Canada sent four divisions to fight at the Western front. The high-point for the Canadian Army during the First World War came during the battle of Vimy Ridge where Canadian troops captured a German fortified hill.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge holds a special place for Miltonians—four soldiers from Milton were among the 3,598 Canadians who died at Vimy Ridge. It was after this war that Canada earned greater autonomy and according to some historians this was when Canada truly emerged as a country.
Canada was a nation of eight million people. A total of 619,636 men and women served in the Canadian forces in the First World War, and of these 66,655 were killed and another 172,950 were wounded. Soon after the First World War, Canada’s geopolitical position was transformed. In 1931 the Statute of Westminster granted Canada the right to be an independent nation.
The Second World War
When Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, Canada’s Parliament and government declared war on Germany on September 10, 1939. After playing a small role in the Battle of Britain, Canadians went on to play a significant role in the Battle of Normandy. Out of a population of approximately 11.5 million, 1.1 million Canadians served in the armed forces in the Second World War. An officially recorded total of 42,042 members of the armed forces gave their lives, and another 55,000 were wounded.
Canadian Peacekeeping Efforts
Canada has a long history of participating in peacekeeping missions. In fact Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lester B. Pearson is considered to be the father of modern United Nations Peacekeeping. More than 125,000 Canadians have served in some 50 UN peacekeeping missions since 1949.
Canada joins US led military strikes in Afghanistan
Since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the twin towers in New York, more than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members have served in Afghanistan. Flight Lieutenant Chris Hasler, a Canadian serving with Britain’s Royal Air Force, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for piloting helicopter resupply missions under fire in July 2006. Captain Nichola Goddard became the first female Canadian Armed Forces member to die in combat when the forward artillery observer was killed in a firefight on May 17, 2006.
Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan have made a difference, but this has come at a great cost. 158 Canadian Armed Forces members have died for the causes of peace and freedom in Afghanistan.
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Data and facts taken from:
6. Lamb,Ken.,“Milton remembers World War 2” – Ken Lamb (Milton Historical Society, 1995)