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Canadian Veterinarians Join the Fight!

For the week of Monday, November 2, 2015

On November 2, 1910, Canada began protecting its four-legged fighters by establishing the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps (CAVC).

Officers bandaging a horse hit by shrapnel
© Canada. Dept. of National Defence/ Library and Archives Canada / PA-001680

Before modern military vehicles, human soldiers weren’t the only ones serving in war: horses and mules were crucial for the transport of soldiers, weapons, and supplies. Although veterinarians had offered their services to regiments in previous conflicts, the CAVC was the first official organization of veterinarians. It would prove crucial to Canada’s success in the First World War.

The CAVC worked out of veterinary hospitals in England and France, but also sent officers to the front lines to treat more serious equine injuries.

The specialized nature of their work meant the CAVC veterinarians received little rest as they could not easily be replaced for leave. The Canadian animal strength reached about 23,500 horses and mules, but the number of animals under Canadian care reached 50,000 per week! This is because CAVC also treated horses from other armies of the British Empire. With so many horses to care for and not enough veterinarians, the CAVC loosened its enlistment qualifications to accept individuals who had not yet completed their formal education. In 1915, upper-year students from the Ontario Veterinary College jumped at the opportunity to serve in the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps even before their diplomas were awarded.

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A horse standing in water to ease the pain of an injured leg
© Canada. Dept. of National Defence /Library and Archives Canada / PA-005004

The skill and expertise of the Corps’ veterinarians helped 80 percent of injured Canadian and Imperial horses return to the field. The CAVC received royal designation in 1919, and was renamed the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps. It was disbanded in 1940, as motorized vehicles replaced animal strength in the Second World War.

The Canadian Army Veterinary Corps illustrates one of the many areas of Canadian medical expertise during the First World War. Other medical professionals like Canadian army physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae and nursing sister Elizabeth Smellie are commemorated as persons of national historic significance for the roles they played during the war. Ontario Veterinary College professor Dr. Frank W. Schofield is also a national historic person.

It is the centennial anniversary of the First World War! To learn more, see: Canada Joins the Great War, Future War Hero, Forever Remembered and Oh Bother! Canada's Winnie-the-Pooh connection in the This Week in History archives. You can also visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page. For more on Canada’s bravest animals during wartime, read Sergeant Gander reporting for duty!

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada! Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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