Minister Sir Robert Borden initially
expected Canada’s overseas manpower
needs to be met through voluntary means.
Following the outbreak of war, militia
units across Canada acted as recruiting
stations. By the end of 1915, recruitment
had declined and Ottawa allowed patriotic-minded
groups of citizens to raise units at
their own expense. In January 1916, Borden
announced a Canadian overseas troop commitment
of 500,000 men, an almost unsustainable
number of voluntary enlistments from
a population of barely eight million.
was slower in French Canada, which lacked
the ties of kinship and tradition with
Britain that encouraged Canadians of
British ancestry to enlist. As a result
of high casualties and dwindling enlistments,
in August 1917 the government passed
the Military Service Act imposing conscription.
French Canada bitterly opposed this measure,
as did farmers’ and labour groups,
and Canadians became deeply divided over