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Article

Canada and Gas Warfare

Poison gas was used throughout the First World War by almost all armies. Its widespread use was unique in the history of warfare. The various types of gas, delivered by canisters, projectors, or shell, killed, maimed, and wore down morale. By 1918, soldiers of all armies encountered gas frequently while serving at the Western Front. Canadian soldiers were among the first to face the death clouds, at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. At least 11,572 Canadian soldiers were casualties of poison gas, yet many were denied pensions after the war. During the Second World War, chemical weapons were not used on the battlefield; however, the Suffield Experimental Station in Alberta developed and tested chemical and biological weapons beginning in 1941. From about the middle of the 20th century, Canadian officials worked on the global stage to ban chemical weapons, and in the 1990s, Canada signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (see Arms Control and Disarmament.)

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Battle of Sainte-Foy

On 28 April 1760, during the Seven Years’ War, the confrontation known as the battle of Sainte-Foy took place on the heights of Quebec City between the French and British armies. Seven thousand men under the command of French general François-Gaston de Lévis met 3,400 soldiers under the command of General James Murray in violent combat which ended with a major victory for the French. Following the battle, the French laid an unsuccessful siege to Quebec City and were eventually forced to retreat due to the arrival of British reinforcements on the St. Lawrence River.

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Prestonian-class Frigates

The Prestonians were a group of 21 Second World War frigates reactivated by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in the 1950s for antisubmarine warfare (ASW). This was a stopgap measure to meet Canada’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) force goals until the purpose-built St Laurent-class destroyer escorts came into service. Although originally built as Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) vessels, the Prestonians had to be extensively modified to meet the more complex demands of Cold War ASW, which they performed until withdrawn in the mid-1960s.

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CH-124 Sea King

The Sea King entered service with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1963 as an all-weather shipborne helicopter to provide close antisubmarine warfare (ASW) protection for ships at sea. By the time it was retired from service 55 years later, in 2018, it had undergone a variety of modifications and role-changes. Throughout, it maintained its well-earned reputation as the workhorse of the fleet. Sea King helicopters were a critical element in nearly every naval operation at home and abroad.

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RCAF Women's Division

Members of the Women’s Division (WD) of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) were wartime pioneers. Thousands of young Canadian women volunteered to serve at home and abroad during the Second World War as part of the air force. By replacing men in aviation support roles, they lived up to their motto — "We Serve that Men May Fly” — and, through their record of service and sacrifice, ensured themselves a place in Canadian history.

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Battle for Hill 70

The capture of Hill 70 in France was an important Canadian victory during the First World War, and the first major action fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander. The battle, in August 1917, gave the Allied forces a crucial strategic position overlooking the occupied city of Lens.

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Canadian Peacekeepers in Rwanda

From 1993 to 1995, Canada was a leading contributor to a series of United Nations peacekeeping missions in the African nation of Rwanda. However, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), led by Canadian Major-General Roméo Dallaire, was powerless to prevent the slaughter of 800,000 Rwandans in 1994. Following the genocide, a new contingent of Canadian troops returned to Rwanda as part of UNAMIR II, tasked with restoring order and bringing aid to the devastated population. Hundreds of Canadian soldiers, including Dallaire, returned from their service in Rwanda deeply scarred by what they had witnessed.

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Canadian Peacekeepers in Haiti

Since 1990, peacekeepers from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and civilian police forces, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), have served in Haiti on various United Nations (UN) missions. The purpose of these missions was to help stop the internal violence and civil unrest that had plagued the country for years and help promote and protect human rights and strengthen police and judicial systems.

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Canadian Peacekeepers in Somalia

In 1992–93, Canada contributed military forces to UNITAF, a United Nations–backed humanitarian mission in the African nation of Somalia. The mission was hampered by the fact that some of the warring factions in the Somalia conflict attacked the international forces that were trying to restore order and deliver food to a starving population. The Canadian effort was also clouded by the murder of a Somali teenager by Canadian troops. The crime — and alleged cover-up by Defence officials in Ottawa — became one of the most infamous scandals in Canadian history.

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30 Historic Battles

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, The Canadian Encyclopedia created 30 lists of 30 things that have helped define our identity, from famous people and historic events, to iconic foods and influential artists.

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Battle of the St. Lawrence

The Battle of the St. Lawrence was an extension of the larger Battle of the Atlantic— the German campaign during the Second World War to disrupt shipping from North America to the United Kingdom. Between 1942 and 1944, German submarines (U-boats) repeatedly penetrated the waters of the St. Lawrence River and Gulf, sinking 23 ships and costing hundreds of lives. It was the first time since the War of 1812 that naval battles were waged in Canada's inland waters.

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Sixty Years On, Korean War Still Echoes

When is a war not a war? For the Korean War, the answer is not always clear. This year, 2013, marks the 60th anniversary of the ceasefire of a war that not everyone describes that way. It had ambiguous beginnings, more than 20 participating countries, and still no formal end. But some things are evident. This year, Historica Canada is commemorating this sometimes-forgotten but still-resonant period of our recent history, and Canada’s role therein. Our country sent more than 26,000 members of our military to the Korean “theatre.” More than 500 Canadians died, and another 1,000 were wounded; 32 became prisoners of war.

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Capture of Fort Niagara

The capture of Fort Niagara on 18-19 December 1813 was a British victory over the US during the War of 1812. American troops had occupied Fort George and the village of Niagara (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) in Upper Canada since May 1813. As winter approached and the condition of the American troops worsened, it was discovered that British troops were approaching to retake the fort. Command of Fort George had devolved to Brigadier General George McClure. With just over 100 troops, McClure decided to withdraw across the Niagara River to Fort Niagara. Before leaving, he implemented instructions sent by secretary of war John Armstrong to destroy Niagara.

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Battle of Vimy Ridge

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was fought during the First World War from 9 to 12 April 1917. It is Canada’s most celebrated military victory — an often mythologized symbol of the birth of Canadian national pride and awareness. The battle took place on the Western Front, in northern France. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting together for the first time, attacked the ridge from 9 to 12 April 1917 and captured it from the German army. It was the largest territorial advance of any Allied force to that point in the war — but it would mean little to the outcome of the conflict. More than 10,600 Canadians were killed and wounded in the assault. Today an iconic memorial atop the ridge honours the 11,285 Canadians killed in France throughout the war who have no known graves.

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

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Indigenous Peoples and the World Wars

Thousands of Indigenous peoples served in the Canadian military forces in the First World War and Second World War; most were volunteers. On the home front, most Indigenous communities participated in the national war effort in diverse ways. The world wars were dramatic events for Indigenous peoples in Canada (see Indigenous Peoples and the First World War and Indigenous Peoples and the Second World War). Conflict offered these marginalized populations opportunities to renew warrior cultural traditions, reaffirm sacred treaties, prove their worth to indifferent non-Indigenous Canadians, break down social barriers and find good jobs.

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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.