Impact of World War II on Canada

Editoral Note: This work is so tiny that I had been reluctant to post it, but I still decided to do so as I have no material to substantiate this blog in the recent two weeks that I have been active on a plethora of issues lately. A review on SAT and ACT reading coming up soon, stay tuned for more. 


After people at home discovered that a plethora of soldiers sent to the battlefield never return, volunteers enlisting in the army deteriorated substantially. The Borden government came up with a solution — conscription. The war, especially the issue on conscription impacted Canada for at least three generations. Prime Minister Borden’s most conspicuous opposition, Laurier Liberals were opposed to conscription and claimed that they would end conscription if they were elected. Fearful of the people not electing him for another term, Border extended voting rights to family of overseas soldiers and formed a new party called the Unionist; the party composes of people from both the Conservatives and the Liberals that support conscription. As soldiers and families now enjoy voting rights even though they were previously not entitled to, Unionist government won every province except Prince Edward Island (draw) and Quebec (where Liberals won overwhelmingly). The new conscription statute drafts soldiers from all over Canada, including Quebec. Angered Quebecois, lead by Henri Bourassa, organized protests and later riots against the Borden government. However, these events did not stop the Federal Government from drafting soldiers into the military. Over a period of four years in the war, total of 418,052 soldiers were sent abroad [1], 198,056 (47.4%) never returned home or returned with injuries. In short, 2.45% of the population was either killed or seriously injured as a direct result of the war [2].

After the people discovered that returned veterans were treated horrendously and as a result of Borden and Meighan’s inept domestic policy, people voted against Meighan’s Conservative party in 1921. The Great Canadian Leader—W.L.M. King, who was appointed Liberal leader two years before the election, was named Prime Minister. Like his predecessor, King has little interest in Quebec and focused mainly on Anglophone politics. Liberals dominated the House of Commons almost without interruptions until the 90s when Brian Mulroney’s PC was put in power in a majority government. (With two significant exception, 1930-1935 R.B. Bennett government during the great depression and Diefenbaker government during the 60s) Ironically, King himself, opposed to conscription during the 1917 crisis, introduced conscription again in 1944.

The issue on Quebec was, and still has been, controversial. Quebecois nationalists such as Henri Bourassa organized massive protests to demonstrate the abhorrence from Francophone Quebecois of conscription. Despite objections, Borden still enabled the conscription plan. Yet, massive oppositions did not cease. Quebecois invented several “creative” methods to circumvent conscription. While some escaped to the United States, some hid underground and some converted to religions opposed to fighting.

In 1917, a precursor to the 80s and 90s Quebec sovereignty movement, MNA Joseph-Napoléon Francoeur prepared a bill called the Francœur Motion that declared “Quebec would be prepared to break the Confederation pact of 1867 if, in other provinces, that we are believed to be an obstacle to progress and development of Canada.” [3] The bill was withdrawn by premier Lomer Guein, but this is usually seen as one of the most important early sovereigntist movement in Quebec. The movement was supported by Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montréal[4], a Quebec francophone rights society and one of the fiercest supporter of Quebec independence. The entire sovereign movement, brought civil unrests, mass protests and two referendums that still haven’t ceased today.

Conscription never directly lead to these consequences. The affirmation of Canadian identity among Quebecois has never been a problem, but the affirmation is not an approval of the Anglophone-ruled government. [5] Census data shows, approximately 60% of all French speaking Canadians currently living in Quebec identifies as of “Canadian origin” while around 33% identifies as of “French origin”, albeit 95% of these people are of pure or majority French origin.

Aside from Quebec that has been discussed for a full page already, the war also lead to an increase of international recognition of Canada as an autonomous country outside of the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. As a result of Borden’s tenacious stance that Canada must be an individual signatory of the Versailles treaty, Canada gained status as a country that could act independently without consenting London quickly. Was Borden less persistent, Ottawa might have to have London’s consent before acting until today.

Overall, the impact of the war on Canada cannot be covered and cannot only be covered in one word—momentous. However, it has been the best representation so far that it accurately described that Canada had undergone a plethora of changes; the war might have shaped the Canadian 20th century in some ways.



[1]Number of Casualties in the First World War, 1914 to 1918, and the Second World War, 1939 to 1945. Statistics Canada, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

[2]Censuses of Canada 1665 to 1871: Estimated Population of Canada, 1605 to Present. Statistics Canada, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2016.

[3] Francœur, Jean-Napoléon. “Motion Francoeur – National Assembly of Québec.(In French)” Motion Francoeur. National Assembly of Québec, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.

[4] Sociéte Saint-Jean-Baptiste De Montréal. “À Propos De La SSJBM. (In French)” À Propos De La SSJBM. Sociéte Saint-Jean-Baptiste De Montréal, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.

[5] Census Canada. “NHS Profile, Sherbrooke, V, Quebec, 2011.” Census Canada. Census Canada, 2012. Web. 23 Feb. 2016.


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