Reflecting on 1917, Part II

In the previous blog entry, we looked at some of the military actions that Canadians were part of in the First World War, and how those helped to build a Canadian nation. Here are some of the events in 1917 that affected Canada at home during the war, and how those shaped our nation.

Prime Minister Borden, a Canadian nationalist, was willing to stand up to the British when it came to Canadian soldiers’ lives. However, Borden was also fully dedicated to a British Empire victory. By 1917, Canadian willingness to volunteer had largely dried up. Borden knew the Empire needed more men to achieve victory, and brought in the draft. Conscription was divisive as many people, especially French-Canadians in Quebec, hated the idea of fighting what they saw as a British imperialist conflict. This issue helped to sow the seeds of Quebec separatist nationalism.

In the 1917 federal election, Borden was determined to hold power, believing that conscription was necessary for the Allies to win the war. Borden called for a Unionist government, made up of pro-conscription Conservatives and Liberals. Two laws were passed that would help Borden win the election. Servicewomen, such as nurses, and the female relatives of servicemen were given the vote, since they largely supported his pro-conscription platform. Conscientious objectors and people born in enemy nations were banned from voting. The Unionists won the election handily. Under Borden, Canadian women were first granted the right to vote in Canadian federal elections.

Far from Canada, spurred on by Russian war-weariness and frustration with the old imperial system, Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks overthrew Czar Nicholas and took power. The wheels were set in motion for the Cold War: political strife between East and West that would dominate much of the 20th century. The Communists were themselves overthrown in 1991, but tension between Russia and the West still exists in 2017. Many of our foreign policies and national security measures, as well as our closest military alliances, stem from the Great War and the rise of the Soviet Union.

 

 

100 years after the fact, we think of ourselves as far removed from the events of 1917. As time passes, the First World War continues to slip from our collective memory, but we must not forget. November 2017 is the time to think back on that era and the legacies that the Great War has left for us today. Join us at the Musee Heritage Museum on Remembrance Day to learn more about this history.

(Photographs of some of St. Albert and area’s servicemen from the First World War)