The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not so distantly — related. Along the way we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
The game is six degrees of Canadian history. Take two seemingly unrelated pieces of Canadian culture and connect the dots through various people, places and events to discover how they’re distantly — or maybe not-so-distantly — related. Along the way, we visit the quizzical and curious, the tragic and comic, and everything in between.
The First World War of 1914–1918 was the bloodiest conflict in Canadian history, taking the lives of more than 60,000 Canadians. This collection brings together a number of our resources on the First World War. Image above: Canadians soldiers advancing through German wire entanglements at Vimy Ridge. April, 1917. Canadian Department of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001087.
The Fenians were a secret society of Irish patriots who had emigrated from Ireland to the United States. Some North American members of this movement were intent on taking Canada by force and exchanging it with Britain for Irish independence. From 1866 to 1871 the Fenians launched a series of small, armed incursions of Canada, each of which was put down by government forces — at the cost of dozens killed and wounded on both sides.
The Second World War transformed Canada from a quiet country on the fringes of global affairs, into a critical player in the 20th century's most important struggle. Canada carried out a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic, the air war over Germany, and other important theatres of the conflict. The war took the lives of 43,000 Canadians.
The final 100 days of the First World War — from 8 August to 11 November 1918 — came to be known as the Hundred Days Offensive. But the Canadian Corps' significant contributions along the Western Front generated the name "Canada's Hundred Days." During this time, Canadian and allied forces pushed the German Army from Amiens, France, west to Mons, Belgium, in a series of battles — a drive that ended in German surrender and the end of the war.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge, during the First World War, is Canada's most celebrated military victory — an often mythologized symbol of the birth of Canadian national pride and awareness. The four divisions of the Canadian Corps, fighting together for the first time, attacked the ridge from 9 to 12 April, 1917 and captured it from the German army. It was the largest territorial advance of any Allied force to that point in the war – but it would mean little to the outcome of the conflict. More than 10,500 Canadians were killed and wounded in the assault. Today an iconic white memorial atop the ridge honours the 11,285 Canadians killed in France throughout the war who have no known graves.2
The Second World War was a defining event in Canadian history, transforming a quiet country on the fringes of global affairs into a critical player in the 20th century's most important struggle. Canada carried out a vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic and the air war over Germany, and contributed forces to the campaigns of western Europe beyond what might be expected of a small nation of then only 11 million people.5
In the Second World War, Canadians began fighting in Italy in July 1943. By the summer of 1944, the Allies had pushed German forces to one of their last defensive positions — a stretch of heavily fortified territory in northern Italy known as the Gothic Line. The main job of breaking the Line fell to the I Canadian Corps, which accomplished the task after a month of difficult combat, at a cost of more than 4,500 casualties. Although overshadowed by the Allied invasion of France, cracking the Gothic Line was among Canada's greatest feats of arms of the war.
Canada’s war of independence was the First World War. Unlike the Americans, our war of independence was not fought against the country from which we became independent, but alongside it. We started the war as a colony of Britain and ended it as an ally. The remarkable performance of the Canadian Corps and its first Canadian commander made these gains in autonomy possible.
In December 1943, as part of the Allied advance through Italy during the Second World War, Canadian forces fought one of their toughest battles of the war in a bid to capture the town of Ortona. The month-long campaign — first at the Moro River outside Ortona, then with vicious street fighting in the town itself — cost more than 2,300 Canadian casualties, but eventually won Ortona for the Allies.
After the failed Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada, its leader, William Lyon Mackenzie, retreated to Navy Island, in the Niagara River, accompanied by some 200 followers. The Caroline, an American ship based at Fort Schlosser in New York State, was chartered to bring supplies to the rebels. On 29 December 1837, a force of the Upper Canada militia led by Commander Andrew Drew of the Royal Navy found the Caroline moored at Schlosser. In the quick skirmish that followed, an American was killed. The Caroline, set on fire and adrift, capsized before reaching the falls and sank. The incident aggravated the already tense relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States.
The First World War generated an abundance of writing, which in its entirety presents a complex and varied picture of the war. The popular point of view within Canadian literature, however, generally depicts an overtly patriotic and unified perspective of Canada’s involvement in the war.2
Among Canada’s defining events, the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War ranks high. It was a triumph — a major victory for the Allied side after a long, bloody stalemate — and a tragedy. In the four-day battle, 3,598 Canadians died and another 7,004 were wounded. In the near-century since it ended, on 12 April 1917, it has become something else: an event bordering on myth. “In those few minutes,” said Canadian Brigadier-General A.E. Ross of the victory, “I witnessed the birth of a nation.”