The Great War Begins

Canada's "Red Ensign" flag, in use from 1871-1921.
“It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she's something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.”
Emily Carr
Canadian author and artist (1871-1945)

Canada before the war


Canada was still a dominion of Britain, so when Britain declared war on Germany, Canada was at war also.

Canada possessed an “ornamental” military with some Canadian soldiers having experience from the 2nd Boer War in S. Africa (1899-1902).

Canada had 2 cruisers and 300 sailors.

Canada lacked a standing army, but had a militia of 3000 fighters and 700 horses.

Canada was an under-developed resource exporter. Is this different from today?

Canada in 1914. (Courtesy of Canadian Geographic,
Canada's PM Robert Borden and a young Winston Churchill.


In 1912, Canada had slightly more than 7 million inhabitants, half of which were younger than 25 years old. Also, for every 100 women, there were 113 men.

Montreal was the largest city (470 000), followed by #2- Toronto (375 000), and #3- Winnipeg (135 000). Saskatoon was 10th largest at 12 000.

The Canadian economy was experiencing a slow-down, so some felt that war would create jobs and bring money in.

By the end of the war, Canada had uniformed 619 000 men along with thousands of women and men in industry. This was roughly 7% of Canada’s population, a huge offering to British Expeditionary Forces and the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia).

Sam Hughes

Minister of Militia

Sam Hughes is a very controversial figure in Canadian history. Many French-Canadians of the early 1900’s already disliked him for his Anglo-centric views. He was veteran of the 2nd Boer War and he argued hard for the benefits of Canada sending a soldier contingent as support.



Sir Sam Hughes constructed a training camp at Valcartier, QC for military instruction of new recruits. However, he was disliked by soldiers because of his perceived ego and favoritism among the ranks.


Patronage led to the Ross Rifle scandal – the primary weapon given to new recruits that was hugely unreliable in the wet and muddy conditions that dominated the European battlefields (In 1916, after Hughes’ resignation, the Lee-Enfield rifle replaced the Ross amongst the Canadian forces). Read more here.

Sam Hughes, Canada's Minister of Militia and Defense (1911-16).
1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) at Valcartier, QC, 1914.

Hughes also fought against British military leaders who wanted to spread Canadian troops throughout British forces. His stubbornness paid off and the Canadians were kept together to fight as their own divisions. Some say that this opportunity stoked comraderie among the men, and the very challenging conditions strengthened Canada’s resolve as a nation moving into the future.

To learn more about the camp at Valcartier, Sam Hughes, and the training of Canadian troops, please view the following video titled: “Soldier Factory” (Courtesy of Royal Roads University). 

August 1, 1914: Lethbridge Daily Herald (Courtesy of

Causes of the Great War

Militarism. Alliances. Imperialism. Nationalism. Industrialism. Assassination.

Opening Moves

Western Front Aug.3 to Oct.17, 1914. Schlieffen Plan. Race to the Sea. Stalemate. War at Sea.

Canada's Duty

Training. Somme. Ypres. Canada Contributes. Beaumont-Hamel. Danger Tree. Courcelette.

Great War Begins Quiz

Quiz: Causes of the War. Assassination. Attrition. Schlieffen Plan.

The Road to Vimy Ridge

Introduction Homepage