The Home Front - First World War

Canadians contributed in many ways to our country’s great efforts in the First World War. The conflict involved virtually the whole country, and the home front became a critical part of the war effort. Canadian workers and farmers—both men and women—made important contributions to the Allied war effort by producing food, munitions, equipment, aircraft, vessels, and other supplies. Canadian scientists performed military research and developed war-related technologies. Volunteers (mostly women) played a vital role in fundraising, distributing aid to soldiers’ families, performing services in hospitals, and providing soldiers with care packages. Consequently, a large number of women assumed unprecedented new roles. Visible minorities, often rejected for military service, took factory jobs. The role of the Canadian government in the day-to-day lives of Canadians increased markedly. The War Measures Act evoked during the war was used to limit the freedom of some Canadians. Regulations like rationing and air-raid drills also affected Canadians.

The War Economy

Canada contributed an enormous quantity of money, food, equipment, and munitions to the Allied war effort.

Poster encouraging the saving of food for the war effort.

Economy of Wheats the Troops can be Rationed and Transported from America.
Kingsway, England, 1914-1918.
Library and Archives Canada / e010696436

Enemy Aliens

The war encouraged national sentiment and overt displays of patriotism, but it also aggravated ethnic tensions and prejudices and led to the prosecution of many so-called “enemy aliens.”

Photo of Women and children prisoners.

Women and children prisoners of internment camp.
Spirit Lake Internment Camp, Abitibi, Quebec, circa 1914-1920.
Library and Archives Canada / PA-170620

The Halifax Explosion

Canadians at home were not left untouched. The Halifax Explosion in 1917 placed additional strain and grief on the country. The explosion was a result of a collision between a French vessel loaded with explosives and a Belgian relief ship in the Halifax Harbour. It was the largest human-made explosion to occur before the dropping of the atomic bombs during the Second World War.

Photo – damage caused by Halifax Explosion.

View looking south showing damage caused by the Halifax Explosion.
Halifax, Nova Scotia, December 6, 1917.
Library and Archives Canada / C-019944

Women and the Vote

The women’s suffrage movement struggled in Canada. It was only because of political expediency during the First World War that a breakthrough was made. The Military Voters Act, designed to increase the number of electors potentially favourable to the government in power, inadvertently benefited women as well. Military nursing sisters serving in the war effort became the first Canadian women to exercise the right to vote in a federal election. At the same time, the War-time Elections Act gave the vote to close female relatives of people serving in the armed forces.

Poster announcing a speech on women’s suffrage.

Woman Suffrage: You will wish to hear the Canadian woman suffrage leader Flora McDonald Dennison and Mr. Frank Dunham, Thursday, October 25, 8:00 p.m.
Library and Archives Canada / C-147951

Photo - Canadian nursing sisters voting during the Dominion elections at a Canadian Hospital in France.

Canadian nursing sisters voting during the Dominion elections at a Canadian Hospital in France.
France, December, 1917.
Library and Archives Canada / PA-002279

The Canadian Red Cross

The Canadian Red Cross is a well-known organization that has long helped those in need. Its history is intertwined with our country's military efforts and many Canadians volunteered with the Red Cross during the war years. Canadian servicemen and servicewomen greatly appreciated the support offered by the Red Cross, whether at home, on the front lines, in prisoner-of-war camps or in rest areas away from the fighting.

Poster – Canadian Red Cross.

Give. The Canadian Red Cross. / Donnons. La Croix Rouge Canadienne.
Library and Archives Canada / Acc. No. R1300-33

Red Cross volunteer dressing a Canadian.

Red Cross volunteer dressing a Canadian.
September 1916.
William Ivor Castle / Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-000769

Photo - Red Cross trucks unloading supplies for refugees in Valenciennes.

Red Cross trucks unloading supplies for refugees in Valenciennes.
Valenciennes, France, November 1918.
Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-003602

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