League of Nations

Canada was a founding member of the League of Nations — an organization of countries established in 1919 at the end of the First World War.

League of Nations Meeting
League of Nations meeting at Geneva, August-September 1928, when Canada was a member of the Council (courtesy Library and Archives Canada/C-9055).

Canada was a founding member of the League of Nations an organization of countries established in 1919 at the end of the First World War. The League failed in its main purpose of keeping peace through the arbitration of international disputes. It was replaced by the United Nations at the end of the Second World War.

Treaty of Versailles

The 1919 Paris Peace Conference, at the end of the First World War, produced the Treaty of Versailles. The main authors of the Treaty Britain (and its Dominions, including Canada), France and the United States wanted to establish an international organization of member states founded on the principles of collective security, and the preservation of peace. The Treaty included a provision, or "Covenant," for the creation of a League of Nations.

American President Woodrow Wilson had played an important part in founding the League, but the United States Senate refused to ratify the Covenant of the League partly because of American partisan politics. As a result, the U.S. never joined the League, which deprived it of significant power and authority.

However, 63 other states were members. The League established headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. It included a council, assembly and secretariat. The council met quarterly and comprised the major powers as permanent members, plus non-permanent members elected by the assembly. The assembly consisted of representatives of all member states, and met annually. Under a secretary-general, the secretariat provided the permanent staff.

Canada's Role

Canada was a founding member of the League, and served on the council from 1927-1930. A Canadian, Sir Herber​t Ames, was financial director 1919–26, a high administrative position in the secretariat.

More positively, in 1929, Raoul Dandurand, Canadian representative on the council, successfully proposed strengthening League procedures in overseeing the treatment of linguistic and religious minorities in eastern Europe.

In 1935, when Canada supported the League's sanctions against Italy, Canadian delegate Walter A. Riddell proposed stopping all exports of oil, coal and steel to Italy. This action, unauthorized by the new government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, was publicly repudiated.

Collective Security

The League provided opportunities for international discussion of political and legal questions, disarmament, economic relations, the protection of minorities, communications, transit, and health and social questions.

Members were required by Article 10 of the Covenant to respect and preserve each other's territory and independence. Aggression against any member would be considered aggression against all, and would lead to collective economic, and possibly military, measures.

From 1920 to 1923 the Canadian government unsuccessfully sought the removal of the League's collective-security guarantees, fearing they would draw Canada into further European wars.

The purpose of collective security was to avert war, and in the 1920s the League participated in the attempted reconciliation of Germany with France and Great Britain. However, these efforts failed in the face of the territorial aggression in the 1930s by Italy, Germany and Japan. The League soon ceased to function as a collective-security organization, although its social and economic activities continued until the Second World War. It was replaced by the United Nations in 1945.

Even though it ultimately failed in its aim of collective security, the League established a new pattern of international organizational activity. League membership brought Canada its first official contact with foreign governments, and helped establish its position as a sovereign state. League membership also presented Canada with the opportunities and the dilemmas associated with international co-operation and peace-making.