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Canada and the South African War (Boer War)

The South African War (1899–1902) was Canada's first foreign war. Also known as the Boer War, it was fought between Britain (with help from its colonies and Dominions such as Canada) and the Afrikaner republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Canada sent three contingents to South Africa, while some Canadians also served in British units. In total, more than 7,000 Canadians, including 12 nurses, served in the war. Of these, approximately 270 died. The war was significant because it marked the first time Canadian troops distinguished themselves in battle overseas. At home, it fuelled a sense that Canada could stand apart from the British Empire, and it highlighted the French-English divide over Canada's role in world affairs — two factors that would soon appear again in the First World War.

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Ross Rifle

In the early 20th Century, the Ross rifle, a Canadian-made infantry rifle, was produced as an alternative to the British-made Lee-Enfield rifle. The Ross rifle was used during the First World War, where it gained a reputation as an unreliable weapon among Canadian soldiers. By 1916, the Ross had been mostly replaced by the Lee-Enfield.

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Paardeberg Day

The Battle of Paardeberg was the first time men in Canadian uniform, fighting in a Canadian unit, made war overseas. It also inspired one of the first remembrance ceremonies in Canada: from 1900 until the end of the First World War, Canadians gathered not on November 11, but on February 27 — Paardeberg Day — to commemorate the country’s war dead and its achievements in South Africa (see also Remembrance Day in Canada).

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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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Battle of the Plains of Abraham

The Battle of the Plains of Abraham (13 September 1759), also known as the Battle of Quebec, was a pivotal moment in the Seven Years’ War and in the history of Canada. A British invasion force led by General James Wolfe defeated French troops under the Marquis de Montcalm, leading to the surrender of Quebec to the British. Both commanding officers died from wounds sustained during the battle. The French never recaptured Quebec and effectively lost control of New France in 1760. At the end of the war in 1763 France surrendered many of its colonial possessions — including Canada — to the British.

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Representing the Home Front: The Women of the Canadian War Memorials Fund

While they may not have had access to the battlefields, a number of Canadian women artists made their mark on the visual culture of the First World War by representing the home front. First among these were the women affiliated with the Canadian War Memorials Fund, Canada’s first official war art program. Founded in 1916, the stated goal of the Fund was to provide “suitable Memorials in the form of Tablets, Oil-Paintings, etc. […], to the Canadian Heroes and Heroines in the War.” Expatriates Florence Carlyle and Caroline Armington participated in the program while overseas. Artists Henrietta Mabel May, Dorothy StevensFrances Loringand Florence Wyle were commissioned by the Fund to visually document the war effort in Canada.

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Persian Gulf War, 1990-91

In 1991, Canada joined an international military coalition to confront Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait. Canada contributed warships and fighter aircraft to the successful campaign to liberate Kuwait. It was the first time Canada sent women to war in combat roles, and it was the first time in decades that Canadian air and naval forces supported each other in a war zone. More than 5,100 Canadian military personnel served in the war, with a peak of about 2,700 in the region at one time. No members of the Canadian armed forces died during the conflict.

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Editorial: Canadian Art and the Great War

Canadian painting in the 19th century tended towards the pastoral. It depicted idyllic scenes of rural life and represented the country as a wondrous Eden. Canadian painter Homer Watson, under the influence of such American masters as Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt, created images that are serene and suffused with golden light. In On the Mohawk River (1878), for instance, a lazy river ambles between tall, overhanging trees; in the background is a light-struck mountain. In Watson’s world, nature is peaceful, unthreatening and perhaps even sacred.

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Remembering D-Day: The Making of a Heritage Minute

On 6 June 1944, Canadian Forces landed on Juno Beach. D-Day was the largest amphibious invasion of all time and marked the beginning of the end of the Second World War. In 2019, Historica Canada released a Heritage Minute telling the story of 47-year-old Major Archie MacNaughton, a First World War veteran and leader of the North Shore New Brunswick Regiment’s A Company. In this article, Anthony Wilson-Smith, president of Historica Canada, reflects on the making of the D-Day Minute.

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Canada and the Battle of Hong Kong

Hong Kong was the first place Canadians fought a land battle in the Second World War. From 8 to 25 December 1941, almost 2,000 troops from Winnipeg and Quebec City — sent to Hong Kong expecting little more than guard duty — fought bravely against the overwhelming power of an invading Japanese force. When the British colony surrendered on Christmas Day, 290 Canadians had been killed in the fighting. Another 264 would die over the next four years, amid the inhumane conditions of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

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Canada and the Battle of the Scheldt

The Battle of the Scheldt was fought in northern Belgium and southwestern Netherlands in 1944 during the Second World War. It was part of the Allied campaign to liberate northwestern Europe and defeat Nazi Germany. The First Canadian Army played a crucial role in clearing the Scheldt of German forces, opening crucial supply lines via the port of Antwerp. However, this victory came at a cost. The Allies suffered nearly 13,000 casualties during the battle, including more than 6,300 Canadians.

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Canada and the Battle of Kapyong

The Battle of Kapyong is one of Canada’s greatest, yet least-known, military achievements. For two days in April 1951, a battalion of roughly 700 Canadian troops (the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment) helped defend a crucial hill in the front lines of the Korean War against a force of about 5,000 Chinese soldiers. Besieged by waves of attackers, the Canadians held their position amid the horror of close combat until the assaulting force had been halted and the Canadians could be relieved. Their determined stand contributed significantly to the defeat of the Communist offensive in South Korea that year.

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Wartime Home Front

The two world wars of the 20th century were total wars that involved the whole nation, and the "home front" became a critical part of Canada’s effort.

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