Canada's Changing Identity and Autonomy During WWI

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Before World War I, Canada was more often seen as a British Colony rather than its own country, and did not have a large sense of its own identity, many people being very patriotic towards Britain. Then, during the war, Canada’s growing sense of identity and autonomy was shown through the independence of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), some of the major Canadian battles such as the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele, and the Hundred Day’s Campaign, then later at the Paris Peace Conference.

Even though today Canada is still a British Commonwealth, it’s sense of identity and autonomy emerged and grew during the First World War.

Before the war, Canada had strong ties to Britain, and many English-speaking Canadians felt very patriotic towards the ‘Mother Country’. This was one of the reasons so many men volunteered, along with the fact that since Canada was part of the British Empire, if Britain went to war, Canada was automatically involved.

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When the war started, and all these men volunteered, the Canadian army grew from 3,000 to more than 30,000 men.

This had a large effect on the Canadian identity and its sense of unity, since, before the war there was not many connections between the Canadian regions, and when the war began men from all over Canada were brought together for a larger purpose. After brief training the Canadian army became the “Canadian Expeditionary Force” (CEF) and when it reached England, the British thought the force would be integrated into the bigger more experienced army, but for most of the war, the CEF remained a separate unit.

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This was a big step for the Canadian autonomy because it showed they were their own fighting force and not just part of the larger British army.

Some of the Major battles that the CEF fought played an important role in Canada’s sense of identity and independence. The Battle of the Somme was one such example, where despite the fact that the attack failed and the heavy losses for both sides, Canada proved itself in its strength and skill. This also led to the Canadians being in charge of leading other major battles throughout the war, including the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the Battle at Passchendaele. When the Germans took control of Vimy Ridge, for two years the allies were unable to recapture it, until late 1916 when Canada was chosen to lead a new assault. By April 1917, Canada had captured the Ridge and had taken more artillery and prisoners than any other Ally force during the war.

Before the battle at Passchendaele, General Arthur Currie was the first Canadian to be given command of a Canadian unit. These were big steps towards Canada’s independence from Britain. Despite these advances, Currie still took orders from a higher British officer, and when he advised that attacking Passchendaele would have major losses, he was overruled and the attack went ahead. He turned out to be right, and retaking Passchendaele resulted in major casualties, and the Germans soon recaptured the town. Later near the end of the war, when Germany struck swiftly on the offensive, the Allies launched a series of counter attacks that was known as the Hundred Day’s Campaign. The Canadian force was one of the most successful during the campaign due to their fighting skill and tactics, winning multiple battles against the Germans and helped end the war.

During the end of the war, when Canada pressed for the right to have its own seat at the Paris Peace Conference, it showed that Canada wanted to be recognized as its own country and have its own voice rather than just being a British Nation. As well as having a seat at the Paris Peace Conference, Canada took part in the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, gaining recognition as an independent nation.

During the First World War, some of the major Canadian battles and the treaties at the end of the war were large steps towards Canada’s sense of identity and autonomy towards Britain. Even today, Canada is part of the British Commonwealth is still under the control of the British, but WWI helped the Canadians view themselves as more independent of the British hold.

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Canada's Changing Identity and Autonomy During WWI. (2023, Feb 15). Retrieved from

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