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 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 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 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.
Guelph, Ontario, was typical of small Canadian cities during the First World War. Of its population of about 16,000, more than a third, 5,610, volunteered for military service; 3,328 were accepted. Today, 216 of their names are engraved on the city’s cenotaph. While Guelphites served overseas, the war had a profound and lasting effect on their hometown — an experience that provides an insight into wartime Canada.
Buckam Singh, labourer, soldier (born 5 December 1893 in Mahilpur, Punjab, India; died 27 August 1919 in Kitchener, ON). There is little information published about the role of Sikhs in Canadian military service during the First World War. The discovery of Buckam Singh’s Victory Medal led to his reclamation by his community, which commemorates him with an annual Remembrance Day service
Hong Kong was the first place Canadians fought a land battle in the Second World War. From 8 to 25 December 1941, almost 2,000 troops from Winnipeg and Québec City — sent to Hong Kong expecting little more than guard duty — fought bravely against the overwhelming power of an invading Japanese force. When the British colony surrendered on Christmas Day, 290 Canadians had been killed in the fighting. Another 264 would die over the next four years, amid the inhumane conditions of Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.
The ongoing Syrian conflict has catalyzed different responses in Canada. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, which came into power in November 2015, has greatly expanded the resettlement of Syrian refugees into Canada. However, the policies have also been criticized as Canada continues to fight Islamophobia and negative attitudes about refugees.
The Battle of Passchendaele is a vivid symbol of the mud, madness and the senseless slaughter of the First World War. In the late summer of 1917, the British launched a major offensive against German forces holding Passchendaele ridge, overlooking the city of Ypres, Belgium. The battlefield became a quagmire. Canadian forces entered the fray in October, capturing the ridge and Passchendaele village at a cost of 15,600 casualties — a high price for a piece of ground that would be vacated for the enemy the following year.
Among the approximately 2,000 victims who died in the Halifax Explosion of 1917, one-quarter were children under the age of 18. Many other young people survived but would carry physical and emotional scars with them for the remainder of their lives. Dead and wounded children were the most poignant victims of the disaster.
During the Second World War, on 19 August 1942, the Allies launched a major raid on the French coastal port of Dieppe. Operation Jubilee was the first Canadian Army engagement in the European theatre of the war, designed to test the Allies' ability to launch amphibious assaults against Adolf Hitler's "Fortress Europe." The raid was a disaster: More than 900 Canadian soldiers were killed, and thousands more were wounded and taken prisoner. Despite the bloodshed, the raid provided valuable lessons for subsequent Allied amphibious assaults on Africa, Italy and Normandy.
The capture of Hill 70 in France was an important Canadian victory during the First World War, and the first major action fought by the Canadian Corps under a Canadian commander. The battle, in August 1917, gave the Allied forces a crucial strategic position overlooking the occupied city of Lens.
The war in Afghanistan (2001-2014) was Canada's longest war and its first significant combat engagement since the Korean War. After the 2001 terror attacks on the United States, Canada joined an international coalition to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime that sheltered it in Afghanistan. More than 40,000 Canadian Armed Forces members served in the 12-year campaign. The war killed 165 Canadians —158 soldiers and seven civilians. Although the Taliban were removed from power and the al-Qaeda network was disrupted, Canada and its allies failed to destroy either group, or to secure and stabilize Afghanistan.
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