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Canada and Peacekeeping

Peacekeeping is the term usually applied to United Nations (UN) operations in countries affected by conflict. Peacekeepers work to maintain peace and security, protect human rights and help restore the rule of law. Peacekeepers can be members of the armed forces, police officers or civilian experts. As a result of Lester Pearson's leadership in the 1956 Suez Crisis and Canada's role in the UN Emergency Force he helped create, many Canadians consider peacekeeping part of the country's identity. However, since the 1990s Canada's reputation as a peacekeeping nation has been affected by scandal and by the failure of some overseas missions. Although Canada’s contribution to peace operations has declined since then, Canadian peacekeepers continue to serve overseas in such places as Mali. In total, more than 125,000 Canadians have served in UN peace operations. Canadians have also participated in UN-sanctioned peace operations led by NATO and in missions sponsored by the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO). Approximately 130 Canadians have died in peace operations.

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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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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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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.

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Royal Flying Corps

During the First World War, more than 5,000 Canadian pilots served in the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). The RFC was formed on 13 April 1912 to satisfy Britain's need for a military presence in the expanding field of aviation. It joined with the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in April 1918 to become the Royal Air Force. During the war, an RFC/RAF training program in Canada produced approximately 10,500 pilots, mechanics and aircraftmen.

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Canada and Antisubmarine Warfare in the First World War

When the First World War began in August 1914, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) was unprepared to fight a war at sea. Founded only in 1910, it consisted of two obsolete cruisers, HMCS Niobe and HMCS Rainbow, and about 350 regular sailors, augmented by 250 reservists. During the war, it was assigned a growing number of tasks, which it was ill-equipped to perform. This included protecting Canadian coastal waters against German U-boats. The RCN scrambled to find ships and sailors but was ill-equipped to fight enemy submarines, which sank several vessels in Canadian waters in 1918.


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Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)

Since its inception in 1924, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has served Canadians in peace and war. It played a vital role in the Second World War, becoming the fourth-largest Allied air force, and reached its "golden age" in the late 1950s, with dozens of combat squadrons on the front lines of the Cold War. The term Royal, dropped from the name in 1968, was returned to the air force in 2011.

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Canada and Antisubmarine Warfare during the Cold War

During the Cold War, the Canadian Navy played a crucial role in antisubmarine warfare (ASW), working closely with its allies to patrol and monitor the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for Soviet submarine activity. Canada invested in new technology and continually modernized its fleet of ships and aircraft to better detect and counter Soviet submarines. It also operated strategic warning systems with its allies, particularly the United States. By the end of the Cold War, Canada had developed a very high reputation in the field.


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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).