Backgrounders in Canadian Military History

The Royal Military College of Canada
1876 to the Present

The Royal Military College of Canada offers a professional military education to officer cadets in the Canadian Forces. Unlike military training, which focuses on the development of concrete skills, military education involves the professional preparation of officers to lead armed forces effectively in peace and war.

The Salvation Army
A Touch of Home

During both world wars and throughout the Cold War, the Salvation Army provided Canadian military personnel overseas and in Canada with comforts such as hot drinks and snacks and helped maintain morale by establishing leave centres for rest and recreation. The Salvation Army tried to establish a degree of civility amidst the loneliness and dehumanizing conditions of war. For almost a century, the Salvation Army provided a small “home away from home” for Canada’s military personnel.

Les Purs Canayens
French Canada and Recruitment during the First World War

During the First World War, the Canadian government used posters as propaganda devices, for fund raising purposes and as a medium to encourage voluntary enlistment in the armed forces. Because of Canada’s bilingual character, recruiting poster images and text reflected different cultural traditions, outlooks and sensibilities.

Into the Blue
Pilot Training in Canada, 1917-18

In 1917-18 the British air force directed an ambitious flying training operation in Canada. The scheme had no precedent, but it inspired the vast British Commonwealth Air Training Plan of the Second World War, and subsequent training programs in Canada for aircrew from nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that continue to the present day.

Fortress Europe
German Coastal Defences and the Canadian Role in Liberating the Channel Ports

Fearing an Allied invasion in the west while embroiled in war with the Soviet Union in the east, Adolf Hitler endeavoured to create the “Atlantic Wall”, or “Fortress Europe”, by encrusting the Atlantic seacoast with concrete and steel defences. Fortunately for the Allies, the sheer scale of the project exceeded German resources.

A Garrison Country
Newfoundland and Labrador during the Second World War

When the Second World War began in September 1939, Newfoundland was being administered by a “Commission of Government.” Under this constitutional arrangement, there was a governor and six commissioners, all appointed by the United Kingdom. The coming of war changed Newfoundland’s situation with dramatic suddenness. When the British ultimatum to Germany ran out on 3 September 1939, Newfoundland was at war along with the mother country. For Canadians and Newfoundlanders the war years constituted a period of mutual discovery that laid the foundation for the common bond of nationhood.

The Canadian Women’s Army Corps, 1941-1946
The formation of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps during the Second World War is a milestone in the history of women’s participation in the Canadian military. The Canadian Women’s Army Corps proved themselves efficient and competent soldiers in all respects. Their example helped set the stage for the integration of women into Canada’s postwar armed forces.

Canada’s Air Force in War and Peace
Canada has a long and storied history of military aviation, global in its reach, embracing combat, civil duties, humanitarian missions, and peacekeeping. The air power of Canada has an undiminished role to play in helping to maintain international stability and defend Canada’s interests. The challenges which lie ahead will amply bear out the motto of the Royal Canadian Air Force: Per Ardua Ad Astra — Through Adversity to the Stars.

The Royal Canadian Navy and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1939-1945
The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest campaign of the Second World War and the most important. At stake was the survival of Great Britain and the liberation of western Europe from German occupation. Canada’s enormous effort in the struggle was crucial to Allied victory.

For Queen and Country
Canadians and the South African War, 1899-1902

The South African War of 1899-1902 or, as it is more commonly known, the Boer War, occasioned Canada’s first major military expedition abroad. Fighting in South Africa taught the Canadians a number of valuable lessons. Thereafter, militia training became more realistic, and discipline tighter. In addition, Engineers, Signals, Service, and Ordnance Corps, were added to the order of battle, laying the “foundation of a modern army.” During the much larger and bloodier conflicts to come in the twentieth century, Canadian soldiers were to fully justify the reputation their forebears had gained in South Africa.

Canada and NATO
Canada strongly supported both NATO’s enlargement and internal reform, arguing that NATO had now become the embodiment of those ideals first enunciated in Article 11 of the treaty: a forum for nonmilitary cooperation and dialogue from which security, and a true sense of North Atlantic community, might gradually emerge.

Canada’s War Art
The Canadian War Museum’s war art collections of 13,000 works increasingly provide a link to the conflicts from the perspective of those who witnessed them. While, to a certain extent, the paintings act as illustration, they also convey the feelings of the participants in the conflicts. The works of war art are a unique legacy for all Canadians. Not only are they vivid depictions of military events inspired by personal experience, but they are also important elements in our nation’s art history.

History As Monument
The Sculptures on the Vimy Memorial

The nation’s War memorial at Vimy Ridge by Canadian sculptor Walter Allward is a magnificent testimonial to the Canadian sacrifice during the Great War. Allward’s greatest works have become a newly vibrant part of our national heritage. Many Canadians have had the opportunity of traveling to France to visit the Vimy Memorial; now tens of thousands more can see the inspiration for this historic monument in the sculptor’s original plaster figures.

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Canadian War Museum
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Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M8
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