When Britain declared war in 1914 Canada was automatically drawn in as a Dominion of the British Empire. Canada had a small army of about 3,000 soldiers and so the federal government, under Prime Minister Robert Borden, formed the Canadian Expeditionary forces (CEF) of about 35,000 men. Around 630,000 Canadians served in the CEF throughout the First World War.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge

the taking of vimy ridge, easter monday, 1917. r. jack. canadian war museum.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge started on 9th April 1917 and was the first time all four Canadians divisions fought together. German forces captured Vimy Ridge in October 1914 and transformed it in a strong defensive position. They had built a complex system of tunnels and trenches manned by highly –trained soldiers with machine guns and artillery pieces. The Canadian Corps was commanded by General Julian Byng who, after learning from mistakes made at the Battle of the Somme, prepared his soldiers with intense training that helped them to make quick decisions. The soldiers were also assisted by maps drawn up from aerial photographs and deep tunnels dug from the rear to the front by engineers. On the first day of battle, around 15,000 Canadians rose from the trenches whilst nearly 1,000 guns opened fire on German positions.

It was a difficult battle but the Canadians captured most of the ridge on the first day and the remaining positions were all taken by 12th April. The success for the Allies came at a cost; more than 10,000 soldiers were killed or wounded.

The Canadian Patriotic Fund

© IWM Art pst 12494 propaganda poster.

Sir Herbert Ames established the Canadian Patriotic Fund (CPF) in August 1914. The organisation took donations during and after the war from many individuals and businesses wanting to support the Canadian soldiers and their families. The idea was to reassure the married soldiers going overseas to fight, which was 20% of all Canadian soldiers during the war. These soldiers were promised that in their absence their wives and families would be cared for and supported. Most Canadians believed it was their duty to support their soldiers’ families but the CPF still urged many to donate, encouraging Canadians to fight or to pay.

After The Speeches About The Empire - Ted Plantos

I remember the Union-Jack-waving crowds

Before our train pulled out, and the quiet later

That choked their gaiety – how they went black

And motionless white when the last photograph was taken

I volunteered with twenty-one others

August of’14 it was, and we were handsome then 

In our red tunics, trousers as blue

As the ocean we ached to cross

And white helmets marching to the railway station

Sam Hughes couldn’t have hoped for more

They were joining up right across Canada

In Vancouver we burned the Kaiser in effigy,

Soaked him in kerosene and applauded the flames

The crowds cheered us in our new uniforms

When we marched ahead of automobiles,

Horses and buggies and the local fire brigade

Loaded down with flags

One of the officers told me

The war would last only three months,

And I’d likely not see any action

After the speeches about the Empire

Soaked up our hearts and were over,

The band played “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”

And the crowded platform

Went motionless quiet

When the train with us out the windows pulled away.


The government were aware of the agricultural labour shortage and in an effort to boost employment of women and children they formed the Farm Service Corps “Farmerettes”. The Farmerettes were involved in all types of farm work, often replacing men who had joined the military. The programme only existed in the Ontario province and in 1918 there were 2,400 women picking fruit in the Niagara region.

Prior to the start of the war meant rural women were part of the agricultural labour force. The war years were particularly challenging for them without the support from their husbands and sons. Canadian women contributed significantly to allied food production, especially wheat.



The national programme Soldiers of the Soil had a similar purpose to the ‘Farmerettes’ but was aimed at adolescent boys. It recruited 22,385 young men from across the country.