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Defence Policy

Before 1870, the defence of Canada was a costly burden for France and then for Great Britain, invariably against enemies to the south, be they Iroquois, English or the American invaders of 1775-76 (see AMERICAN REVOLUTION) or of 1812-14.

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Canada and the League of Nations

The League of Nations was an organization of 63 countries established in 1919, after the First World War. Canada was a founding member. The League ultimately failed in its aim of collective security. It was replaced by the United Nations at the end of the Second World War. However, the League of Nations did establish a new model for international organizations. League membership brought Canada its first official contact with foreign governments and helped to establish its position as a sovereign state. It also introduced Canada to the opportunities and challenges of international co-operation and peacekeeping.

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Dieppe Raid

During the Second World War, on 19 August 1942, the Allies launched a major raid on the French coastal port of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies' ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler's "Fortress Europe." The raid was a disaster: More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Despite the bloodshed, the raid provided valuable lessons for subsequent Allied amphibious assaults on Africa, Italy and Normandy.

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Hill 70 and Canadian Independence

Canada’s war of independence was the First World War. Unlike the Americans, our war of independence was not fought against the country from which we became independent, but alongside it. We started the war as a colony of Britain and ended it as an ally. The remarkable performance of the Canadian Corps and its first Canadian commander made these gains in autonomy possible.

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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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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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The Quebec Act, 1774 (Plain-Language Summary)

In 1759, the British defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham. Soon after, the British took control of Quebec (see also The Conquest of New France.) The Quebec Act of 1774 was passed to gain the loyalty of the French who lived in the Province of Quebec. The Act had serious consequences for Britain’s North American empire. The Quebec Act was one of the direct causes of the American Revolution.

(This article is a plain-language summary of The Quebec Act, 1774. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry on The Quebec Act, 1774.)

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Battle of Cambrai

The Battle of Cambrai in northern France took place from 27 September to 11 October 1918, during the First World War. The battle was among the Canadian Corps' most impressive tactical victories of the war, particularly because of the Canadians' skillful use of military engineers. It was part of a series of connected battles at the start of the Hundred Days Campaign, which would lead to the defeat of Germany and the end the war.

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The War of 1812 (Plain-Language Summary)

The War of 1812 was fought between Britain and the United States between 1812 and 1814. The war ended in a stalemate but had many lasting effects in Canada. It guaranteed Canada’s independence from the United States. It also gave Canadians their first experience working together as a community and helped develop a sense of nationhood.

(This article is a plain-language summary of the War of 1812. If you are interested in reading about this topic in more depth, please see our full-length entry War of 1812.)

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Canadian Army

​The history of the Canadian Army parallels that of Canada itself. What started as a small Confederation-era militia was built into a respected force of mostly citizen soldiers for the First and Second World Wars.

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D-Day and the Battle of Normandy

The 1944 Battle of Normandy — from the D-Day landings on 6 June through to the encirclement of the German army at Falaise on 21 August — was one of the pivotal events of the Second World War and the scene of some of Canada's greatest feats of arms. Canadian sailors, soldiers and airmen played a critical role in the Allied invasion of Normandy, also called Operation Overlord, beginning the bloody campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation. Nearly 150,000 Allied troops landed or parachuted into the invasion area on D-Day, including 14,000 Canadians at Juno Beach. The Royal Canadian Navy contributed 110 ships and 10,000 sailors and the RCAF contributed 15 fighter and fighter-bomber squadrons to the assault. Total Allied casualties on D-Day reached more than 10,000, including 1,074 Canadians, of whom 359 were killed. By the end of the Battle of Normandy, the Allies had suffered 209,000 casualties, including more than 18,700 Canadians. Over 5,000 Canadian soldiers died.

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The Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel

On 1 July 1916, Allied forces launched a major offensive in France during the First World War. The opening of the Somme offensive turned into one of the deadliest days in the history of modern warfare. At the village of Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment suffered catastrophic losses. More than 80 percent of the soldiers who advanced that day were either killed or wounded. In one morning, the regiment suffered approximately 700 casualties, including more than 300 dead.

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Canada and the Second Battle of Ypres

The Second Battle of Ypres was fought during the First World War from 22 April to 25 May 1915. It was the first major battle fought by Canadian troops in the Great War. The battle took place on the Ypres salient on the Western Front, in Belgium, outside the city of Ypres (now known by its Flemish name, Ieper). The untested Canadians distinguished themselves as a determined fighting force, resisting the horror of the first large-scale poison gas attack in modern history. Canadian troops held a strategically critical section of the frontline until reinforcements could be brought in. More than 6,500 Canadians were killed, wounded or captured in the Second Battle of Ypres.

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The Royal Canadian Dragoons

The Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD) is the senior of three regular armoured regiments in the Canadian Army. The regiment was established in 1883 as a cavalry unit. Since then, it has served in major conflicts at home and overseas, including the North-West Rebellion, Boer War, First and Second World Wars and, more recently, the war in Afghanistan. The Dragoons have also served in peace operations in Egypt, Cyprus, Somalia and the Balkans. The regiment has been based at CFB Petawawa, Ontario, since 1987. It is currently part of 2nd Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, 4th Canadian Division. A detached squadron serves at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick.