Canada and the First World War

Sir Sam Hughes

Sir Sam Hughes, Canada's Minister of Militia and Defence from October 1911 to November 1916, was the driving force behind Canada's early war effort.

Energetic and Controversial

Hughes increased the efficiency of the pre-war militia and, after 1914, led the Canadian war effort with enormous personal energy and drive. A talented and charismatic politician first elected in 1892, he entered Cabinet as Prime Minister Borden's defence minister in 1911 and was knighted in 1915.

In contrast to his political talents, Hughes was a poor organizer prone to patronage and cronyism in awarding military promotions and munitions contracts. Many of his favourite equipment projects were embarrassing failures. Hughes had championed the purchase of the Canadian-made Ross rifle, carried by Canadian troops at the outbreak of war, and drew serious criticism when he defended it against growing evidence of its deficiencies in combat. Hughes fought vigourously against those officers who tried to replace the Ross with his own accusations of incompetence and political malice.

Dismissed by the Prime Minister

By 1916, Hughes was a growing political liability for the government. He was detested in Quebec for his anti-French, anti-Catholic views, and distrusted by Cabinet colleagues for his financial and administrative shortcomings. His attempts to establish and control a Canadian military command structure overseas had resulted in chaos, leading in the fall to the creation by the prime minister of an overseas ministry answering directly to Cabinet. Hughes opposed the decision. In November, Borden accepted the resignation of his unhappy and increasingly disruptive minister, who remained a government back-bencher until his death in 1921.

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