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First World War (WWI)

The First World War of 1914–1918 was the bloodiest conflict in Canadian history, taking the lives of nearly 61,000 Canadians. It erased romantic notions of war, introducing slaughter on a massive scale, and instilled a fear of foreign military involvement that would last until the Second World War. The great achievements of Canadian soldiers on battlefields such as Ypres, Vimy and Passchendaele, however, ignited a sense of national pride and a confidence that Canada could stand on its own, apart from the British Empire, on the world stage. The war also deepened the divide between French and English Canada and marked the beginning of widespread state intervention in society and the economy.

(This is the full-length entry about the First World War. For a plain-language summary, please see First World War (Plain-Language Summary).)

Article

Bomarc Missile Crisis

The CIM-10B Bomarc was the world’s first long-range, nuclear capable, ground-to-air anti-aircraft missile. Two squadrons of the missile were purchased and deployed by the Canadian government in 1958. This was part of Canada’s role during the Cold War to defend North America against an attack from the Soviet Union. Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s refusal to equip the missiles with nuclear warheads led to a souring of Canada’s relationship with the United States, especially once the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the issue to the fore. The issue split Diefenbaker’s Cabinet and contributed to his party losing the 1963 election.

Article

The Great War in the Air

Airplanes became an important part of modern warfare during the First World War (1914–18). Aircraft technology developed rapidly and by war’s end, airplanes were involved in reconnaissance, artillery spotting, air-to-air combat, strafing ground targets, anti-submarine warfare, tactical and strategic bombing and home defence. More than 20,000 Canadians served in British flying services (Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force) during the war. Approximately 1,400 were killed or died from wounds or accidents. Canada did not have an air force during the First World War; a single-plane Canadian Aviation Corps was established in 1914, but never saw service and soon disbanded. Later, on 5 August 1918, two Canadian Air Force squadrons were formed in Britain, but were disbanded the next year when the British cut off funding. The Royal Canadian Naval Air Service was formed in September 1918 but lasted only three months before the war ended. Canada would not have a permanent air force until 1924 (see Royal Canadian Air Force).

Article

British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

In 1939, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia signed an agreement creating the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP). Located in Canada, the plan's mandate was to train Allied aircrews for the Second World War, including pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners, and flight engineers. More than 130,000 crewmen and women were trained between 1939 and 1945, making this one of Canada's great contributions to Allied victory in the war. It led United States President Franklin Roosevelt to call Canada the "aerodrome of democracy."

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Battle of Ortona

In December 1943, as part of the Allied advance through Italy during the Second World War, Canadian forces fought one of their toughest battles of the war in a bid to capture the town of Ortona. The month-long campaign — first at the Moro River outside Ortona, then with vicious street fighting in the town itself — cost more than 2,300 Canadian casualties, but eventually won Ortona for the Allies.

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Sinking of HMHS Llandovery Castle

On the evening of 27 June 1918, while sailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool, England, the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat (U-86). Of the 258 crew and passengers, only 24 survived. Almost all the Canadian Army Medical Corps personnel were killed: six male officers, 64 enlisted men and 14 nursing sisters. Only one lifeboat escaped; the rest were either sucked under as the ship sank or attacked by the U-boat. The submarine’s officers were later charged with committing a war crime.

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Canada and SOSUS

The Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) was a network of passive sonar stations established by the United States Navy (USN) in the early 1950s to “listen” for Soviet submarines. SOSUS was a core element of antisubmarine warfare (ASW) during the Cold War. It developed out of intense postwar oceanographic research into how sound is propagated under water. Given Canada’s shared responsibility for the defence of North America, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was actively engaged in this research and mission and helped operate SOSUS. The mission was highly classified throughout the Cold War and only declassified in 1991. SOSUS became part of the Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS), a broader network of fixed and towed sensors that remains operational.


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Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion

The Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion was a battalion of Canadians that fought against fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). It is also a collective name for more than 1,500 Canadian volunteers who served in the conflict, either with the “Mac-Paps” or in other units.

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Canada and the Cold War

The Cold War refers to the period between the end of the Second World War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During this time, the world was largely divided into two ideological camps — the United States-led capitalist “West” and the Soviet-dominated communist “East.” Canada aligned with the West. Its government structure, politics, society and popular perspectives matched those in the US, Britain, and other democratic countries. The global US-Soviet struggle took many different forms and touched many areas. It never became “hot” through direct military confrontation between the two main antagonists.

Article

Battle of the Plains of Abraham

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham (13 September 1759), also known as the Battle of Quebec, was a pivotal moment in the Seven Years’ War and in the history of Canada. A British invasion force led by General James Wolfe defeated French troops under the Marquis de Montcalm, leading to the surrender of Quebec to the British. Both commanding officers died from wounds sustained during the battle. The French never recaptured Quebec and effectively lost control of New France in 1760. At the end of the war in 1763 France surrendered many of its colonial possessions — including Canada — to the British.

(This is the full-length entry about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. For a plain-language summary, please see Battle of the Plains of Abraham (Plain-Language Summary).)