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Korean War

The Korean War began 25 June 1950, when North Korean armed forces invaded South Korea. The war’s combat phase lasted until an armistice was signed 27 July 1953. As part of a United Nations (UN) force consisting of 16 countries, 26,791 Canadian military personnel served in the Korean War, during both the combat phase and as peacekeepers afterward. The last Canadian soldiers left Korea in 1957. After the two world wars, Korea remains Canada’s third-bloodiest overseas conflict, taking the lives of 516 Canadians and wounding more than 1,000. In total, an estimated three million people died during the war. More than half were civilians. The two Koreas remain technically at war today.

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Seven Years’ War (Plain-Language Summary)

The Seven Years’ War (1756–63) was the first global war. In North America, Britain and France fought each other with the help of Indigenous allies. At the end of the war, France gave Canada (Quebec) and Ile Royale (Cape Breton) to Britain, among other territories. This is the reason that Canada has a British monarch but three founding peoples — French, British and Indigenous.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the Seven Years’ War. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry Seven Years’ War.)

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Second World War (WWII)

The Second World War was a defining event in Canadian history, transforming a quiet country on the fringes of global affairs into a critical player in the 20th century's most important struggle. Canada carried out a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic and the air war over Germany and contributed forces to the campaigns of western Europe beyond what might be expected of a small nation of then only 11 million people. Between 1939 and 1945 more than one million Canadian men and women served full-time in the armed services. More than 43,000 were killed. Despite the bloodshed, the war against Germany and the Axis powers reinvigorated Canada's industrial base, elevated the role of women in the economy, paved the way for Canada's membership in NATO, and left Canadians with a legacy of proud service and sacrifice embodied in names such as Dieppe, Hong Kong, Ortona and Juno Beach.

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

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Conscription in Canada

Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” of citizens for military service. It is sometimes known as “the draft.” The federal government enacted conscription in both the First World War and the Second World War. Both instances created sharp divisions between English Canadians, who tended to support the practice, and French Canadians, who generally did not. Canada does not currently have mandatory military service. The Canadian Armed Forces are voluntary services.

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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).)

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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).

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Wartime Elections Act

The Wartime Elections Act of 1917 gave the vote to female relatives of Canadian soldiers serving overseas in the First World War. It also took the vote away from many Canadians who had immigrated from “enemy” countries. The Act was passed by Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative government in an attempt to gain votes in the 1917 election. It ended up costing the Conservatives support among certain groups for years to come. The Act has a contentious legacy. It granted many women the right to vote, but it also legitimized in law many anti-immigrant sentiments.

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Remembrance Day in Canada

Remembrance Day is a yearly memorial day that is observed in many Commonwealth countries, including Canada, to remember those who died in military service, and honour those who served in wartime. It is observed across Canada each year on 11 November — the anniversary of the Armistice agreement of 1918 that ended the First World War. On Remembrance Day, public ceremonies and church services often include the playing of “Last Post,” a reading of the fourth stanza of the poem “For the Fallen,” and two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. Wreaths are laid at local war memorials and assemblies are held in schools. Millions of Canadians wear red poppy pins in the weeks leading up to and on 11 November in remembrance. In 2020 and 2021, Remembrance Day services and events were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many events were either held online, cancelled or limited to a small number of participants due to fear of contagion.