Upheaval on the homefront

The Great War experience for Canadians on the home front varied widely depending on a citizen’s sex and ethnic background.


While most men and women of British ancestry supported the war, in Quebec, fewer residents were in favour. Many Canadians of British stock were of first or second generation status, with strong ties to the home country. For many Quebecers, their ties to France were several centuries distant, and while some Quebecers fought at the front, others regarded the Great War as Europes concern, not Canada’s.

This schism came to a head in 1917 during the “Conscription Crisis” that saw Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden fight an election on the issue of the draft, forming a Union government to get conscription passed. While Borden’s manoeuvre was successful, it exacerbated tensions between French and English Canada for generations to come.

Meanwhile, for Canadians of non-British descent — particularly those with German ancestry or family from the Austro-Hungarian Empire — the outbreak of war put them in the crosshairs. They were viewed with distrust, picked on, forced to sign up and then answer to government registries, and in some cases, placed in internment camps. In total, more than eight thousand “enemy aliens” were held in these internment camps during the war.

With thousands of men serving overseas, women were expected to pick up the slack. Many went to work in factories or in fields, working jobs traditionally held by men.

The massive number of dead and wounded soldiers meant few communities escaped unscathed by the war. Families everywhere lost fathers, sons, brothers, uncles and cousins.

For many soldiers that returned from the war, returning to “normal” life after years in the trenches proved a challenge. Promised land, new opportunities, and great jobs, many were instead disappointed when the economy declined and employment became scarce. It’s telling that soon after the armistice a wave of unionism and worker unrest swept the country — the most famous of which was the Winnipeg Strike of 1919.

What’s certain is that the country had been forever changed by the war, and society would need to adapt to the new realities.


The War on Truth

The War on Truth

Canada’s First World War press censor wielded tremendous power in stemming the flow of upsetting news from the front.
The Polish connection

The Polish connection

The rich history of Ontario’s Niagara-on-the-Lake includes a brief spell as a training ground for a Polish army-in-exile.
Feminists on the homefront

Feminists on the homefront

Post-war women went to work. They won the vote. Then they lost their way. By Charlotte Gray
The Yukon at War

The Yukon at War

The unquestioned zeal and commitment of Yukon men served to hasten the Territory’s decay — their departure strangled the Yukon economy.