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August 1914: Canada Prepares for War

For the week of Monday August 18, 2014

On August 18, 1914, volunteers from across Canada filed into a military camp in the making at Valcartier, Quebec, near Quebec City, to begin training for their role in the First World War.

At that time, Canada was at war automatically following Great Britain’s declaration of war on August 4. The Canadian government, however, could still decide the extent to which it would be involved. Prime Minister Robert Borden and his cabinet promptly agreed to provide the 25,000 troops requested by Britain.

1st Canadian Infantry Battalion at Valcartier, QC
© Canadian War Museum, George Metcalf Archival Collection, CWM 19740416-003

Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes was responsible for mobilization efforts. Prior to the declaration of war, Canada had an impressive 74,213-member, non-permanent militia, but these were men trained only 16 days a year. The permanent force numbered only 3,110. With so few permanent and experienced soldiers available, Hughes had to build a Canadian army and establish training facilities practically from scratch. Believing the war would be a short one, as did many that summer, he chose not to mobilize the militia, but instead issued a nation-wide call to arms to serve in what would be called the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF). He chose Valcartier as their assembly point, and built that facility with the help of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir William Price. Everyone who volunteered that summer passed through that training camp before shipping out to war. 

Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes and Major-General Arthur Currie inspect the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, Summer 1916
© Canadian War Museum, George Metcalf Archival Collection, CWM 19920044-601

When the First Contingent of the CEF arrived overseas on October 14, 1914, it comprised 33,000 soldiers, well above the promised number.

The establishment of CFB Valcartier and the enthusiastic enlistment of so many Canadians allowed Canada to assert its international importance during the First World War, especially with its gallant fighting in the Belgian and French theatres.

Sir Robert Laird Borden and Sir Samuel Hughes were designated people of national historic significance in part for their wartime contributions. Other national historic commemorations associated with the First World War include more training facilities such as Camp Hughes in Manitoba, memorials such as Vimy Ridge in France, battles such as Passchendaele, the Royal Flying Corps Hangars National Historic Site at CFB Borden in Ontario, among others.

This year is the first in the centennial of the First World War. For more on Canada in the First World War, please see Canada Joins the Great War, United at Vimy, The Canadian Military Reaches New Heights, Protector of the Air, and Forever Remembered in the This Week in History archives. Also visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations and the Canadian War Museum Canada and the First World War web pages.

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