100 Years Ago!

By: Olivia Bechard

August 4, 2014. Today marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The world was a much different place in 1914, and Canada was certainly not how we know it today. In 1914, Canada was still a dominion of Great Britain, and therefore, when the British government declared war against Germany, Canada was implicated in the conflict as well, though the Canadian government was able to decide exactly how it wanted to participate. In August of 1914, Canada only had a regular army of approximately 3,000 men. However, within the first few weeks of war being declared, roughly 30,000 Canadians had enlisted to join the war effort in Europe. Not only did the government pledge to send men to the front, but arms, ammunition, food and funds were also other contributions made by the Canadian government and Canadians on the home front.

What we have to remember is that at this time, Canada had a population of less than 8 million, and this population was predominantly rural. This population was, for the most part, still very strongly tied to Great Britain because many young Canadian men still had friends and family living there. This fostered a strong sense of nationalism and patriotism in the young men and essentially led to the mobilization of such large numbers. In addition to this, during this early period of the war, many believed that the conflict would not last long and that it would be over by Christmas; it would be a fun adventure for those who had never crossed the Atlantic and an opportunity for those who still had relatives and friends living in Britain to pay them a visit. Within the first few months, many started to realize that this would be a much longer and more gruelling conflict than they originally believed.

Very quickly, a camp at Valcartier, just outside of Quebec City, had been established to prepare and train the troops for mobilization. From here, they were sent to the Salisbury Plain in England where they would participate in further training, before being sent to the front lines in France and Belgium. Even though war was declared in August of 1914, the first contingents of young Canadian men were not sent over until December of 1914. The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry was among the first contingent to cross the Atlantic to join the fight on the Western Front alongside their British counterparts of the 27th Division.

When the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the war had finally come to an end, but at a very high cost for every nation involved. By the end of the war, some 600,000 Canadians had enlisted, and of those, approximately 66,000 were killed over the course of four years. This does not include all those who returned to Canada with both physical and emotional scars of the war. The ultimate sacrifices made by these brave men should be remembered always and it is why today we begin commemorating the First World War and will continue to do so over the next four years.

Olivia Bechard is a graduate of the University of Ottawa. She is currently enrolled in the Applied Museum Studies program at Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology. Olivia also worked as a guide at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France during the winter of 2014 session.