World War I

600,000 Canadians fought in World War I. Nearly 60,000 died and another 150,000 returned home wounded from a war with no clear and compelling purpose other than rivalry between up-and-coming Germany and the lead imperial powers of the day, Britain and France. To a large extent World War I was the outgrowth of intra-imperial competition in Africa and elsewhere.

Support for the British Empire was Ottawa’s primary motive in joining the war. As Prime Minister Robert Borden saw it, the fight was “to put forth every effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honour of our empire.”

Many believe Canada fought against tyranny during World War I. But Germany had universal (male) suffrage and Ottawa was allied with the brutal Russian Czar.

During the war Canadian soldiers garrisoned British colonies Bermuda and St. Lucia. Canadians were also modestly involved in two African theatres of the war: the Anglo-French force that captured the colonies of Cameroons and Togoland and the British/Belgian/South African conquest of German East Africa.

Canada’s massive contribution to World War I propped up British (as well as French and Belgian) colonial rule in Africa. It also added to it. After World War I European leaders gathered to redraw Africa’s borders.

The other British Dominions (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) that fought alongside London were compensated with German properties. With no German colonies nearby Ottawa asked the Imperial War Cabinet if it could take possession of the British West Indies as compensation for Canada’s defence of the Empire.