Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Military history of Canada
Canada has the reputation of being one of the world’s most peaceful nations, but war and the military have still played important roles in the nation's history, from the early conflicts between the First Nations, the battles between the French and the English through to the First and Second World Wars, and finally to international peacekeeping.
The First Nations
Indigenous peoples’ warfare tended to be formal and ritualistic in nature and entailed relatively few casualties. Over time it tended to become bloodier and more decisive, especially as these peoples increasingly became caught up in the economic and military rivalries of the European settlers. The bloodshed involved in native conflicts was dramatically increased by the uneven distribution of firearms and horses between native groups, during the early years of their introduction to the continent. Native tribes were to become important allies of both the French and English in the struggle for North American hegemony during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
First meetings with Europeans
The first conflicts between Europeans and native peoples may have occurred around 1006 when parties of Norseman attempted to establish permanent settlements along the coast of Newfoundland. According to Norse sagas, the native Beothuk (called ‘‘skraelings’’ or skraelingars by the Norse) responded so ferociously that the newcomers eventually withdrew and apparently gave up their original intentions to settle.
The French under Samuel de Champlain first founded a settlement at Quebec in 1608, while further to the south the English began their first settlement at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. From these original footholds much larger colonies were to emerge. But while the French colony on the St. Lawrence River, based primarily on the fur trade, and enjoying only lukewarm support from the French monarchy, grew only slowly amidst its tough and unyielding geographic and climatic circumstances, the more favourably situated English colonies to the south developed more diversified economies and flourished. The result was that by the 1750s, when the ongoing economic, political, and military rivalries came to a head in the climactic struggle of the Seven Years War, the population of the thirteen English colonies was 1,500,000, where as that of their rivals to the north was only about 60,000.
For nearly all of the first century of its existence, the chief threat to the inhabitants of New France came not from the English to the south, but rather from a mighty confederacy of Native tribes, the Iroquois, and particularly from its eastern-most component, the Mohawks. These French and Iroquois Wars continued intermittently with great brutality on both sides.
In response to the Iroquois threat, the French government dispatched the Carignan-Salières Regiment , the first group of uniformed professional soldiers to set foot on what is today Canadian soil. After peace was attained, they returned to France, and were replaced by the Compagnies Franches de la Marine . These new troops became a permanent fixture in New France and were thus Canada's first professional standing army.
During the seventeenth century, there were only minor skirmishes between the two great powers. In 1629 a group of English marauders actually captured and burnt the stronghold at Québec and carried off Champlain and its other leaders into captivity in England. These leaders returned in 1632, however, rebuilt their capital and resumed their endeavours. The next most serious threat to Québec in the seventeenth century came in 1690 when, alarmed by the attacks of the la petite guerre , the New England colonies armed an expedition under Sir William Phips and sent them north to capture the source of the problems, Québec itself. This expedition was poorly organized and had little time to do its work, as it arrive in mid-October with little time left before the St. Lawrence would freeze over. The expedition was responsible for eliciting one of the most famous pronouncements in Canadian military history. When called upon by Phips to surrender, the aged Governor Frontenac, who was then serving his second term, replied “I will answer … only with the mouths of my cannon and the shots of my muskets.” In truth, the only evidence for his having made this response comes from Frontenac’s own self-congratulatory writings, recorded some time after the event. At any rate, after a single abortive landing on the Beauport shore to the east of the city, the American force withdrew down the icy waters of the St. Lawrence at the end of October.
During the eighteenth century, matters became much more serious. As British-French struggles came to a head in Europe, local rivalries became absorbed into these much larger struggles waged in Europe between the respective mother countries in Europe. As concerns grew, the French government poured more and more military spending into its North American colonies. Expensive garrisons were maintained at distant fur trading posts, the fortifications of Québec were improved and augmented, and an entirely new fortified town was built on the east coast of Ile Royale, or Cape Breton Island - the fortress of Louisbourg, the so-called "Dunkirk of the North."
Three times during the 18th century the French and English North American Colonies found themselves at war with one another (French and Indian Wars), in local off-shoots of larger European conflicts - the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713), the War of the Austrian Succession (1744-48), and the Seven Years' War (1756-63). Each witnessed attacks by the English colonists on French areas of settlement, while the petite guerre of the Canadiens left a trail of terror and devastation through northern towns and villages of New England.
In 1713 a British force managed to capture Port Royal, the French capital of Acadia in present-day Nova Scotia. By the Treaty of Utrecht, which ended the war in 1713, France was forced to cede control of mainland Nova Scotia to Britain, leaving present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton Island in the hands of the French.
During the War of the Austrian Succession was actually a force of New England militia under one of its officers, William Pepperell, and Commodore Peter Warren of the Royal Navy, succeeded in capturing Louisbourg in 1745. Yet by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that ended the war in 1748, France got Louisbourg back by trading off other of its conquests in the Netherlands and India. The New Englanders were outraged, and as a counterweight to the continuing French strength at Louisbourg, the British founded the military settlement of Halifax in 1749, with a strong naval base in its spacious harbour.
In the meantime, the depredations of the petite guerre had continued, and perhaps even more importantly the French had begun to challenge the claims of the New England colonists for supremacy in the Ohio Country to the west of the Appalachian Mountains, into which increasing numbers of the latter were moving to find cheap homesteading land or to trade with the natives. After the French began the military occupation of the Ohio Country in 1753 by building a series of forts, including Fort Duquesne, the English had determined to eliminate what they saw as this northern menace for the last time. Britain sent two regiments of the line to New England and raised another three on the spot. The French responded by sending six of their own regiments of troupes de terre or line infantry to Québec in the same year. In 1756, these came under the command of the newly arrived general, the 44-year-old Marquis de Montcalm. Accompanying him were another two battalions of troupes de terre, bringing the total number of French professional soldiers in the colony up to about 4000. This was the first significant aggregation of trained professional soldiers on what was to be Canadian soil.
Under their new commander, the French at first achieved a number of startling victories over the British, first at Fort William Henry to the south of Lake Champlain where in 1757 over 2400 men, mostly British regulars surrendered to his forces. In the next year an even greater victory followed when the British army, numbering about 15,000 under Major General James Abercrombie, wasted itself in attacking a French fortification at Carillon (later renamed Fort Ticonderoga by the Americans) at the southern tip of Lake Champlain. The French numbered no more than 3500 and before the British withdrew at the end of the day they had lost about 2000 men, mostly regulars, for a total French loss of about 350.
In the meantime, the British war effort had been galvanized by the appointment of William Pitt as British Prime Minister, a man who was determined to win battles, and who also determined that the crux of the British war effort would be in North America. In June 1758 a strong British force of 13,000 regulars under Major General Geoffrey Amherst, with James Wolfe present as one of his brigadiers, landed and captured, the Fortress of Louisbourg, this for time for good.
An even greater victory occurred a year later when at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham a British force under Wolfe defeated the French led by Montcalm and took Quebec City. However in the following spring (1760) French General François-Gaston de Lévis marched back to Quebec from Montreal, defeated the British at Ste. Foy in a battle similar to that of the previous year, but with the sides reversed, and laid seige to the Quebec fortifications behind which the British retreated. However, the French finally had to concede the loss of New France when the Royal Navy rather than the French fleet sailed up the St.Lawrence after the breakup of the winter ice. (At the end of the Seven Years' War, Britain gave France the option of recovering New France. However, France decided to give up its colony in return for the valuable sugar-producing island of Guadeloupe. In North America, France only retained the small islands of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon as a base for its fishing fleet working the Grand Banks.
The American Threat
With the French threat gone, Britain's own eastern seaboard colonies became increasingly restive. They saw themselves taxed to pay for a large military establishment when there was no obvious enemy to threaten them. (The actual causes of the American Revolution are numerous and controversial to this day.) The American Revolution spawned the American Revolutionary War of 1776-1783 as the revolutionaries attempted to use force to break free from British rule. Attempts by the revolutionaries to take Québec and a number of posts in the Maritimes during this conflict were repelled by superior British military and naval power. The revolutionaries’ failure to achieve success in these areas and the continuing allegiance to Britain of some colonists resulted in the split of Britain’s former North American empire. The independent republic of the United States emerged to the south and a series of loyal British colonies remained in place along its northern border. The remaining British colonies were collectively referred to as British North America.
War of 1812
After the cessation of hostilities, much animosity and suspicion continued between the United States and the United Kingdom, focused especially on the latter’s retention of its North American colonies. This erupted into a shooting war in 1812 when the Americans, seeing the British involved in a major war in Europe against Napoleon, and irked by what they perceived to be British harassment of their ships on the high seas, declared war on the British. The time seemed ripe to eliminate their former imperial rulers from North America altogether, and with this aim in mind, they launched an invasion across the northern border in July. With seven and a half million Americans facing an opposing population of just half a million, this was truly a war of survival for the hard-pressed British North Americans.
The battle raged back and forth along the border of Upper Canada, on land as well as on the waters of the Great Lakes. The British succeeded in capturing Detroit in July, and in October a major American thrust across the Niagara frontier was defeated at the Battle of Queenston Heights by a combined force of British regular troops and colonial militia under Sir Isaac Brock, who lost his life in the battle. The year 1813 was the year of American victories, when they retook Detroit and enjoyed a string of successes along the western end of Lake Erie, culminating in the Battle of Moraviantown on October 5th. Further east they succeeded in capturing and burning York (later Toronto) and taking Fort George at Niagara, which they held until the end of the year. However, in the same year two American thrusts against Montreal were defeated - one by a force of British regulars at Crysler's Farm to the west of the city on the St. Lawrence; the other by a force of mostly French Canadian militia under the command of a native son, Charles de Salaberry at Chateauguay to the south of the city on the River Richelieu.
Valued allies of the British throughout the campaign were the Iroquois tribes of the Upper Canada, as well as Caughnawagas from near Montreal, and western tribes under the great Shawnee chief, Tecumseh. These First Peoples played an important part in many battles, and often had psychologically debilitating impact upon the enemy.
In December of 1814, the two exhausted opponents signed a peace treaty. The borders that had existed before the war remained as they were, and the American scheme to fulfill their manifest destiny to dominate the continent through the seizure of The Canadas had been thwarted. Sir Isaac Brock became a martyred Canadian hero, and although the war had been won largely by British regular troops and by her navy, the conviction took root in Canada that it had been accomplished by its own militia. The resulting so-called "militia myth", that a citizen militia was preferable to disciplined regular troops, was to weigh heavily in Canadian defence councils into the next century.
The fear that the Americans might reactivate their wish to conquer Canada remained a serious concern for at least the next half century, and was the chief reason for the British maintaining a large garrison there. The years of the 1820s-40s witnessed fairly extensive fortifications building in the colonies, as the British attempted to create strongpoints around which defending forces might centre in the event of an American invasion - such as the Citadels at Québec and Halifax, and Fort Henry in Kingston. The Rideau Canal was also built during these years, to allow ships in wartime to travel a more northerly route from Montreal to Kingston. The customary peacetime route was the St. Lawrence River, which, of course, constituted the northern edge of the American border, and hence was vulnerable to enemy attack and interference.
The Patriot War in 1837-1838 was an attempt by Irish settlers from the U.S. and Canada to seize a section of Canada. The Michigan militia prevented them from seizing U.S. weapons from the arsenal at Detroit and the Canadian garrison at Windsor crushed the attackers.
By the 1850s, fears of an American invasion had begun to diminish, and the British felt able to commence reductions in the size of their garrison. A free trade or Reciprocity Treaty negotiated between the Canada and the United States in 1854 further helped to alleviate concerns. Tensions picked up again during the American Civil War of 1861-65, however, reaching a peak probably with the Trent Affair of late 1861 early 1862. This was touched off when the captain of a U.S gunboat stopped the Royal Mail Steamship Trent and removed a couple of Confederate officials who were bound for Britain. The British government was outraged and, with war seeming imminent, took steps to reinforce its British North American garrison, which in the end expanded from a strength of 4000 before the crisis to 18000 afterwards. In the end cooler heads prevailed, war was averted, and the sense of crisis subsided. This incident in fact proved to be the final episode of Anglo-American military confrontation in North America, as both sides increasingly became persuaded of the benefits of amicable relations.
In the meantime, the United Kingdom was becoming concerned with military threats closer to home, and disgruntled at paying the costs of maintaining a garrison in colonies what were becoming increasingly self-assertive, and that after 1867 were united in the self-governing Dominion of Canada. Consequently in 1871 the troops of the British garrison were withdrawn from Canada completely, save for Halifax, where a British garrison remained in place until 1905 for purely British imperial-strategic reasons.
Ironically, it was during this period of re-examination of the British military presence in Canada and its ultimate withdrawal that the last American invasion of Canada occurred. It was not carried out by any official U.S government force, however, but by an organization called the Fenians. This was a group of Irish-Americans who believed that by seizing Canada and holding her hostage concessions could be wrung from the British occupiers of the Irish homeland. Although the American government was not directly involved, it ignored the Fenians openly organizing and training to invade its neighbour. The Fenians were serious threat, as most of them were veterans of the Union Army of the American Civil War and they were well armed. They made two attacks in 1866, one on Campobello Island in New Brunswick and the other in the Niagara region. Both attacks fizzled, that in New Brunswick due to the presence of a strong force of British regulars, and that in Niagara at least partially due to the Fenians' own ineptitude in not following up a victory over the Canadian militia at Ridgeway. (Two later attacks along the Québec-Vermont frontier in 1870 proved similarly fruitless.)
Despite these failures, however, the raids had some impact on Canadian politicians then locked in negotiations leading up to the Confederation agreement of 1867. The raids reinforced amongst them a sense of military vulnerability, especially in light of the fact that the British were known to be seriously considering the downsizing of their garrison, if not its outright withdrawal. Thus, the Confederation Debates were to some degree held in an atmosphere of military crisis, and the greater military security that would be brought about through the pooling of colonial resources was one of the factors that weighed heavily in Confederation’s favour.
The Canadian Militia
With Confederation in place and the British garrison gone, Canada assumed full responsibility for its own defence (with, of course, the United Kingdom being prepared to send aid in the event of a serious emergency and the Royal Navy continuing to provide oceanic defence). Small professional batteries of artillery were maintained at Québec and Kingston. In 1883, a third battery of artillery was added and small professional schools of cavalry and infantry created. These were intended to provide professional backbone to the much larger force of militia that was to form the bulk of the Canadian defence effort. In theory every able-bodied man between the ages of eighteen and sixty was liable to be conscripted for service; but in practice the defence of the country rested on the services of volunteers who made up the so-called Active Militia, which in 1869 numbered 31,170 officers and men.
During the remaining decades of the century, this force spent its time consolidating itself, attending summer camps, parading about in colourful uniforms, and occasionally being mustered to serve in times of strikes or other civil emergencies. Although they did mange to undertake a large expedition against the rebel forces of Louis Riel in the Canadian Northwest in 1885 (the largest military effort undertaken on Canadian soil since the end of the War of 1812), there was little in these men's activities and responsibilities in this period to foretell the awesome efforts that were to be required of their heirs and successors in the violent century that was to come.
Volunteers from the Canadian army were called for during the Boer War to serve in the British army as part of Canada's imperial obligations. The Conservative Party was adamantly in favour of raising divisions for service in South Africa, whereas Franco-Canadian nationalists supported neutrality. This split the governing Liberal Party deeply, as they relied on pro-imperial Anglo-Canadian & anti-imperial Franco-Canadian support. Eventually, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier allowed Canadians to volunteer. About 7,400 Canadians, including 12 female nurses, served in South Africa. Of these, 224 died, 252 were wounded and several were decorated with the Victoria Cross.
The Creation of a Canadian Navy
One of the most controversial issues in the early twentieth century was whether or not Canada should have its own navy. The Conservative Party argued that Canada should merely contribute money to the purchase and upkeep of some British Royal Navy vessels. The Canadian nationalists, most in Quebec believed strongly in an independent Canadian force.
Eventually Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier decided to create a Canadian navy, and two ships, HMCS Niobi and HMCS Rainbow , were purchased from the British.
See also Canadian Navy.
The World Wars
World War I
On August 4, 1914, the First World War broke out in Europe. Up until this point in history, Canada had been largely uninvolved in the conflicts of Europe. The British declaration of war on Germany and Austria-Hungary, brought Canada into the war, as it was still part of the British empire. Canada sent five Divisions to fight on the Western Front.
August 1914 - War Measures Act passed
1915 - First Canadian troops sent to Europe
Fall 1915 - separate Canadian Corps set up on the Western front
1915 - Ypres
1916 - La Somme
1917 - Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge is captured
Canadian troops were found to be some of the most daring and impetuous. Known for their infamous trench raids, the Canadians were used by the British as "shock" troops in softening the German front lines. German soldiers quickly began dreading duty in the trenches opposite the Canadian divisions. The high-point of Canadian military achievement came at the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, during which Canadian troops captured a fortified German hill that had resisted British and French attacks earlier in the war. Vimy, as well as the success of the Canadian flying ace Billy Bishop, helped give Canada a new sense of identity. By the end of the war, Canada lost about the same number of people as the United States did. For a nation of eight million people Canada's war effort was remarkable. A total of 619,636 men and women served in the Canadian forces in the First World War, and of these 66,655 gave their lives and another 172,950 were wounded. Nearly one of every ten Canadians who fought in the war did not return.
Home front - wheat important crop since many fields in Europe are destroyed. Forest as well, mining, as well as industry. See also Conscription Crisis of 1917.
World War II
Following the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Canada's Parliament supported the government's decision to declare war on Germany on September 10, about one week after the United Kingdom and France. The Canadian government fully intended to enter the war, but Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King insisted on recalling parliament to allow a debate on Canadian participation and to underscore Canada's autonomy from the United Kingdom. Moreover, Canada could use its still neutral status to purchase arms from the still neutral United States before entering the war on Britain's side.
From the fall of France in June 1940 to the German invasion of the USSR on June 1941, Canada became Britain's biggest ally in the war. The Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian merchant marine played an especially vital role in the Battle of the Atlantic (1940).
Canada also played a role in the Pacific Theatre. Upon the request of the British Government, Canada agreed to send reinforcement to garrison Hong Kong, therefore freeing up troops for other British possessions in the Far East. The Department of National Defence sent 1975 soldiers from the Royal Rifles of Canada and the Winnipeg Grendiers. However, the Canadian forces in Hong Kong did not have much of an impact when Japan invaded the crown colony on December 8, 1941. Later in 1944, the Canadian Government sent some of their Chinese-Canadian recruits into occupied Malaya as spies and trainers of the local guerrillas.
Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force and individual Canadian pilots flying with the British Royal Air Force fought with distinction in Spitfire and Hurricane fighters during the Battle of Britain. By January 1, 1943, there were enough RCAF bombers and crews in Britain to form No. 6 Group, one of eight bomber groups within RAF Bomber Command.
The Dieppe Raid (Operation Jubilee) of August 19, 1942, landed nearly 5,000 soldiers of the 2nd Canadian Division and 1000 British commandos on the coast of occupied France, in the only major combined forces assault on France prior to the Normandy invasion of June 1944. Despite air support from Allied fighters and bombers and a naval fleet of 237 ships and landing barges, the raid was a disaster. While Dieppe did provide valuable information on the absolute necessity of close communications in combined operations, of nearly 6000 troops landed over a thousand were killed and another 2,340 were captured. It was largely because of Dieppe that the Allies decided not to attempt an assault on a seaport in their first invasion of occupied western Europe.
The 1st Canadian Division took part in the Allied invasion of mainland Italy on September 3, 1943, and Canadian troops fought on through the long and difficult Italian campaign until the end of the European war in 1945.
On June 6, 1944, the 3rd Canadian Division landed on Juno Beach in the Battle of Normandy and sustained 50% casualties in their first hour of attack. By the end of D-Day the Canadians had penetrated deeper into France than either the British or the American troops at their landing sites, overcoming stronger resistance than any of the other beachheads except Omaha Beach. Canadians played a huge role in the Battle of Normandy. Canadian, along with British and Polish troops, were subjected to attacks from the strongest and best trained German troops but still managed to close the Falaise Gap by linking up with U.S. forces. During the battle of the Falaise Gap Maj David Currie of the South Alberta Regiment (predecessor to the current South Alberta Light Horse) won the Victoria Cross for his actions at St. Lambert sur Dives .
One of the major Canadian contributions to the Allied war effort was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the largest air force training program in history. Over 167,000 air force personnel, including more than 50,000 pilots, were trained at airbases in Canada from May 1940 to March 1945.Of a population just over 11 million more than one and a half million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the Second World War. Of these more than 45,000 gave their lives, and another 55,000 were wounded. Countless others shared the suffering and hardship of war. By the end of the war Canada was the fourth strongest military power in the world behind only the USA, the USSR and Britain.
Multilateralism and peacekeeping
Canada in Korea
After the Second World War, Canada rapidly demobilized. When the Korean War broke out between North and South Korea, Canada needed several months to bring its military forces up to strength. They eventually formed part of British Commonwealth Forces Korea. Canadian land forces thus missed most of the early back-and-forth campaigns due to arriving in 1951 when the attrition phase of the war had largely begun. However, Canadian troops did play a valuable role in the fighting, as part of the 1st Commonwealth Division, and distinguished themselves at the Battle of Kapyong and in other land engagements. HMCS Haida and other ships of the Royal Canadian Navy were in active service in the Korean conflict.
Canada sent over 25,000 troops to fight in Korea. There were 1,558 Canadian casualties including 516 dead. Korea has often been described as "The Forgotten War" because most Canadians are not as familiar with the history of the war as the Canadian contributions in the two world wars. Canada is a signatory to the original 1953 armistice, which means Canada could be required to defend South Korea in the future if needed.
Over 125,000 Canadians have served in more than 50 peacekeeping missions since 1949. 116 of them were killed.
Canada in the Gulf War and Afghanistan
Canada was one of the first nations to agree to condemn Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and it quickly agreed to join the U.S. lead coalition. In August Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan to enforce the trade blockade against Iraq. The supply ship HMCS Protecteur was also sent to aid the gathering coalition forces. When the UN authorized full use of force in the operation Canada sent a CF18 squadron with support personnel. Canada also sent a field hospital to deal with casualties from the ground war.
When the air war began, Canada's planes were integrated into the coalition force and provided air cover and attacked ground targets. This was the first time since the Korean War that Canadian forces had participated in combat operations.
Canada suffered no casualties during the conflict but since its end, many veterans have complained of suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.
Canada also joined a U.S. coalition in the 2001 Attack on Afghanistan. The war was a response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks and its goal was to defeat the Taliban government and rout Al-Qaeda. Canada sent special forces and ground troops to the conflict. Four Canadian were killed in a friendly fire incident when an American plane bombed a group of Canadian soldiers. After the war, Canada formed an important part of the NATO-led peacekeeping force.
Since the American invasion, Canada has had warships in Gulf area as part of Operation Apollo. Effectively, these ships have been protecting US forces but their presence is justified by Canada's commitment to NATO and an all-important UN resolution.
In spite of its reputation as one of the world's most peaceful nations, Canada has experienced a series of insurrections that have required military intervention. These events include:
- Rebellions of 1837
- Red River Rebellion 1869
- North-West Rebellion 1875
- October Crisis 1970
- Oka Crisis 1990
- Military of Canada
- History of Canada
- Military history
- Canadian War Museum
- Colonial Militia in Canada
- List of Canadian Victoria Cross winners
- Canada and the American Civil War
- Canada and the Vietnam War
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