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Documenting the First World War

The First World War forever changed Canada. Some 630,000 Canadians enlisted from a nation of not yet eight million. More than 66,000 were killed. As the casualties mounted on the Western Front, an expatriate Canadian, Sir Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), organized a program to document Canada’s war effort through art, photography and film. This collection of war art, made both in an official capacity and by soldiers themselves, was another method of forging a legacy of Canada’s war effort.

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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 Wars

Timothy Findley’s 1977 novel about the mental and physical destruction of a young Canadian soldier in the First World War won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English Language Fiction. It is widely regarded as one of the country’s definitive historical war novels. It has been called “one of the most remarkable novels of war ever published” and “the finest historical novel ever written by a Canadian.” The Globe and Mail referred to The Wars as “the great Canadian novel about the First World War.”

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Military Service Act

The Military Service Act became law on 29 August 1917. It was a politically explosive and controversial law that bitterly divided the country along French-English lines. It made all male citizens aged 20 to 45 subject to conscription for military service, through the end of the First World War. The Act’s military value was questionable, but its political consequences were clear. It led to the creation of Prime Minister Borden’s Union Government and drove most of his French-Canadian supporters into opposition.

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Internment in Canada

Internment is the forcible confinement or detention of a person during wartime. Large-scale internment operations were carried out by the Canadian government during the First World War and the Second World War. In both cases, the War Measures Act was invoked. This gave the government the authority to deny people’s civil liberties, notably habeas corpus (the right to a fair trial before detention). People were held in camps across the country. More than 8,500 people were interned during the First World War and as many as 24,000 during the Second World War — including some 12,000 Japanese Canadians.

Editorial

Japanese Canadian Internment: Prisoners in their own Country

Beginning in early 1942, the Canadian government detained and dispossessed more than 90 per cent of Japanese Canadians, some 21,000 people, living in British Columbia. They were detained under the War Measures Act and were interned for the rest of the Second World War. Their homes and businesses were sold by the government to pay for their detention. In 1988, Prime Minister  Brian Mulroney apologized on behalf of the Canadian government for the wrongs it committed against Japanese Canadians. The government also made symbolic redress payments and repealed the War Measures Act.

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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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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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Ukrainian Internment in Canada

Canada’s first national internment operations took place during the First World War, between 1914 and 1920. More than 8,500 men, along with some women and children, were interned by the Canadian government, which acted under the authority of the War Measures Act. Most internees were recent immigrants from the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman empires, and mainly from the western Ukrainian regions of Galicia and Bukovyna. Some were Canadian-born or naturalized British subjects. They were held in 24 receiving stations and internment camps across the country — from Nanaimo, BC, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Many were used as labour in the country’s frontier wilderness. Personal wealth and property were confiscated and much of it was never returned.

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Prohibition in Canada

Prohibition in Canada came about as a result of the temperance movement. It called for moderation or total abstinence from alcohol, based on the belief that drinking was responsible for many of society’s ills. The Canada Temperance Act (Scott Act) of 1878 gave local governments the “local option” to ban the sale of alcohol. Prohibition was first enacted on a provincial basis in Prince Edward Island in 1901. It became law in the remaining provinces, as well as in Yukon and Newfoundland, during the First World War. Liquor could be legally produced in Canada (but not sold there) and legally exported out of Canadian ports. Most provincial laws were repealed in the 1920s. PEI was the last to give up the “the noble experiment” in 1948.  

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Fenians

Fenians were members of a mid-19th century movement to secure Ireland’s independence from Britain. They were a secret, outlawed organization in the British Empire, where they were known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood. They operated freely and openly in the United States as the Fenian Brotherhood. Eventually, both wings became known as the Fenians. They launched a series of armed raids into Canadian territory between 1866 and 1871. The movement was primarily based in the United States, but it had a significant presence in Canada.

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Seven Years' War

The Seven Years' War (1756–63) was the first global war, fought in Europe, India, and America, and at sea. In North America, imperial rivals Britain and France struggled for supremacy. In the United States, the conflict is known as the French and Indian War. Early in the war, the French (aided by Canadian militia and Indigenous allies) defeated several British attacks and captured a number of British forts. In 1758, the tide turned when the British captured Louisbourg, followed by Quebec City in 1759 and Montreal in 1760. With the Treaty of Paris of 1763, France formally ceded Canada to the British. The Seven Years’ War therefore laid the bicultural foundations of modern Canada.

This is the full-length entry about the Seven Years’ War. For a plain-language summary, please seeSeven Years’ War (Plain-Language Summary).

Article

Internment of Japanese Canadians

The forcible expulsion and confinement of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War is one of the most tragic sets of events in Canada’s history. Some 21,000 Japanese Canadians were taken from their homes on Canada’s West Coast, without any charge or due process. Beginning 24 February 1942, around 12,000 of them were exiled to remote areas of British Columbia and elsewhere. The federal government stripped them of their property and pressured many of them to accept mass deportation after the war. Those who remained were not allowed to return to the West Coast until 1 April 1949. In 1988, the federal government officially apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. A redress payment of $21,000 was made to each survivor, and more than $12 million was allocated to a community fund and human rights projects.

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Battle of Ridgeway

The Battle of Ridgeway is also known as the Battle of Lime Ridge or Limestone Ridge. It was fought on the morning of 2 June 1866, near the village of Ridgeway and the town of Fort Erie in Canada West (present-day Ontario). Around 850 Canadian soldiers clashed with 750 to 800 Fenians — Irish American insurgents who had crossed the Niagara River from Buffalo, New York. It was the first industrial-era battle to be fought exclusively by Canadian troops and led entirely by Canadian officers. It was the last battle fought in Ontario against a foreign invasion force. The battlefield was designated a National Historic Site in 1921.

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October Crisis

The October Crisis refers to a chain of events that took place in Quebec in the fall of 1970. The crisis was the culmination of a long series of terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a militant Quebec independence movement, between 1963 and 1970. On 5 October 1970, the FLQ kidnapped British trade commissioner James Cross in Montreal. Within the next two weeks, FLQ members also kidnapped and killed Quebec Minister of Immigration and Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte. Quebec premier Robert Bourassa and Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau called for federal help to deal with the crisis. In response, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau deployed the Armed Forces and invoked the War Measures Act — the only time it has been applied during peacetime in Canadian history.


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Fenian Raids

The Fenians were a secret society of Irish patriots who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States. Some members of this movement tried to take Canadian territory by force, so they could exchange it with Britain for Irish independence. From 1866 to 1871, the Fenians launched several small, armed attacks. Each raid was put down by government forces. Dozens were killed and wounded on both sides. The raids revealed shortfalls in the leadership, structure and training of the Canadian militia, and led to improvements in these areas. The raids also took place at a time of growing concern over the threat posed by American military and economic might. This led to increased support for Confederation.