- How has the World Wars moulded the society we live in today? Could they have been avoided?
- How did Canadian identity evolve politically, economically and socially after World War I, specifically? And how did it lay the groundwork to how Canada will be affected in the following war?
On my original project plan, I said I would be addressing the question of if another War in the future is probable. However, I’ve decided to change this because I had more to say about how the past had affected the present. Therefore, I’ve decided to focus my last round on the First World War and Canada’s involvement as it laid the groundwork for the shape of the society that we live in today. Further, the repercussions of the First World War in Canada is quite generally similar to the other countries involved. It equally directly affected how Canada responded to the Second World War.
World war I was a tragic and disastrous period of time, a span of four years, from 1914-1918, that divided Nations drastically, while uniting others to fight for their common cause. Canada, having only a population of about 8 million people, by the end of the war, had 62,000 men and women in uniform. For Canada, the government’s decision to be involved in the war would change the three main building blocks of the structure of a society and an identity. Canada’s identity, politically, economically and socially would start to evolve, in both negative and positive ways. These four years would structure everything from the parties in the government to financial stability and the relationships between French and English societies in the future of Canada.
The political block in the structure of society noticeably started to change after the introduction of conscription, which would later become known as the Conscription Crisis of 1917. This was a major issue that was fought over during the Canadian Federal election of December 1917, mainly caused by disagreement on whether men should be conscripted to fight in the war. This conflict equally brought to attention issues regarding English Canadians and French Canadians, who opposed conscription because they felt that they had no particular loyalty to either Britain or France, only Canada. This equally sparked French Canadian Nationalism and started to divide the country along both linguistic and geographic lines. This then led to the creation of Quebec’s national assembly in 1919 and the death of the two-party system as new parties with progressive agendas was born. Further, Sir Robert Borden, the prime minister at the time, wanted more control of foreign policy in Ottawa, not independence but autonomy. Borden persuaded the British to let Canada and the other dominions get a place at the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference and a seat in the new League of Nations, with the right to vote. This organization would later be replaced by the United Nations after the second world war, however, the League of Nations brought Canada its first official contact with foreign governments and helped to establish its position as a sovereign state, drastically changing the structure of politics and status in the country.
Canada’s economy was largely impacted by the actions taken by the government during and after the war. The Canadian government began its involvement in the war thinking about it as more of a form of business and that Great Britain would pay the costs incurred by Canada. However, the government soon realized the gravity of the war and that Britain could not even lend them money. As a result, the government turned to their American neighbours for several loans. By 1917, Britain had become unable to pay for wartime shipments from Canada, and the war largely increased imports of specialized metals and machinery needed for munitions production from the United States. U.S. investment in Canada also increased as British investment declined. As a result, the war began the process of switching Canada from the British financial world to the American one. The loss of money from the war equally resulted in the introduction of income tax, which was meant to be temporary, to help pay for almost 2 billion dollars of debt from the war. However, the income tax still continues to be used today. Canadian citizens soon found themselves facing inflation and the rising cost of living as soldiers were returning home from the war. However, payments for these soldiers were derisory and pensions were difficult to receive. The government equally broke its promises from the election to pay rural Canadians and union workers to exempt them and their sons. Though there are several financial and economical challenges that arose for Canada and its citizens there was a notable positive effect, the rapid industrialization of Canada’s economy, with the increase in factories due to the production of materials for the war.
The social portion of the structure of the Canadian identity following the war was mostly influenced by both the political and economic changes in the country. The role and expectation of women drastically changed following the departure of soldiers. Thousands of women entered the workforce and were responsible for many labour and factory jobs as many of the men who would have normally done it had departed for war. Some women even volunteered as nurses and care-aid facilitators, however, many of these women lost their jobs after the war, when the soldiers returned. There was equally a large increase in the lack of jobs for soldiers after the war and not enough recompensation to live without a job. However, women, specifically those related to soldiers were permitted to vote in 1917 for the first time. Though the reason for this was political, the government thinking that those women were most likely to support conscription, the long-term impact is now evident. However, other Canadians such as recent immigrants associated with enemy countries had seen this right rescinded. Racism was also present in the military, Japanese recruits, who lacked even the right to vote, were routinely turned away, while African-Canadians were allowed only menial jobs. For the most part, the war actually brought the notion of equal rights on many aspects of Canadian society, as women got the right to vote, workers demanded better rights and wages and Canadians railed against graft and corruption. Even though the war did seem to bring positive social change, the Conscription Crisis mentioned before, split the nation religiously, linguistically, geographically and culturally. And that broken country still exists today.
Canada emerged from World War I as a proud, and victorious country and went from a British Dominion to an independent Nation, with newfound standing in the world. However, it is undeniable that Canada’s identity was largely shaped during and after the war, in both good ways and bad because it equally emerged as a grieving, financially unstable and divided nation. The structure of Canada’s identity composed of the blocks of identity including politics, economics, and social situations each influenced the Canada that we have today. Politically, Canada found itself to be a split nation between the French and English Canadians. It equally found standing worldwide due to the League of Nations. Economically, Canada struggled a lot financially, which introduced income tax but it also saw an increase in industrialization. The social block of Canada’s identity that was influenced is probably the most prominent today, with many soldiers who returned carrying mental and physical wounds, the loss of jobs and lack of wages and rights, inspired the citizens to speak out against the government. I think that the war had many unprecedented effects on Canada’s identity. Many of them do seem to be quite negative and longstanding such as the tensions in Quebec and income tax but if Canada had chosen not to intervene, the results of the war may have changed. And even though some people say that Canada’s identity is broken because of the war, it still largely influenced the multicultural, economically stable, peaceful nation that we have today. Besides, broken is not the same as unfixable.
Berthiaume, Lee. “How WWI Upended Canada’s Political, Social and Economic Norms.” CTVNews, CTV News, 4 Nov. 2018, www.ctvnews.ca/politics/how-wwi-upended-canada-s-political-social-and-economic-norms-1.4162799.
“How the First World War Changed Canada.” Macleans.ca, www.macleans.ca/after-fighting-nation-changed/.
“Legacy – The War’s Impact on Canada.” Canada and the First World War, www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/after-the-war/legacy/the-wars-impact-on-canada/.
“The War Economy – Finance and War Production.” Canada and the First World War, www.warmuseum.ca/firstworldwar/history/life-at-home-during-the-war/the-war-economy/finance-and-war-production/.