It was exactly one century ago on Monday that Canada entered World War One; the results were 67,000 dead and a new sense of purpose as a nation.
For those who don’t study or remember history, Canada was actually dragged into the conflict when Britain declared war on Germany. At the time it was still a British dominion so when the mother country went to war, so did other nations like Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
A nation of fewer than eight million people at the time, Canada had more than 620,000 people enlist during the conflict. That number included 3,500 First Nations soldiers.
By the end of the war in 1918, Canada’s casualties were a staggering 67,000 dead and 250,000 wounded, meaning that nearly four in 10 soldiers were killed or injured.
Canadian soldiers distinguished themselves on the battlefield.
At the Second Battle of Ypres, they held the line when the Germans used chlorine gas for the first time.
At the Battle of the Somme, 801 men went over the trench; 68 were still in action the next day.
At the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the four Canadian divisions fought together for the first time, capturing an important ridge at a cost of nearly 3,600 deaths.
In a 16-day battle at Passchendaele, Canadians helped capture the town but had more than 15,000 dead and wounded.
When Canada entered the war, it did so as a pseudo-colony of Britain. By the time the war ended, Canada found itself increasingly finding its own way in the world.
It came from a nation both proud of its wartime contributions -- paid in full in blood on the fields of Europe -- and a horror at the bloody tally.
Since a sizeable majority of the soldiers traced some links back to Britain at the time, the reaction in this country when it came time to sign up wasn’t a massive surprise.
While historians now debate whether the move away from the mother country was actually already starting before the war or if anything of significance came after the war, few historians would argue that the little country didn’t find itself on the battlefield.
It was a debt of blood that continued to be paid a generation later when Canada entered World War Two. A nation of just over 11 million in 1939 saw a million people serve in uniform in different capacities, with 45,000 war dead and 53,000 wounded.
There have been many other military missions since but none had the profound impact of that first one.
It’s not an anniversary to celebrate but it is one to mark. After all, the self-assured nation that we’ve become started in part because of a decision made in another country 100 years ago.
Prince Albert Daily Herald