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The League of Extraordinary Hopes: Canada and the League of Nations

For the week of Monday January 15, 2007

On January 16, 1920, the Council of the League of Nations held its inaugural meeting in Paris, France. For the next 26 years, the League strove to preserve international peace through dialogue rather than through force.

The Canadian delegation to the League of Nations in 1920
The Canadian delegation to the League of Nations in 1920
© League of Nations Archives, UNOG Library
The Covenant of the League was signed on April 29, 1919. Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden’s reaction was divided: while he feared joining this organization would draw Canada into future conflicts, he wanted to gain Canada’s admission in order to establish the nation’s sovereignty in international affairs. Borden insisted upon and secured Canada the right to sign the Covenant independently of Great Britain – a milestone for Canadian political independence.

The main organs of the organization included the Assembly and the Council. Within the Assembly of all member states, Canadian participation was welcomed and its counsel was sought. In 1935, Canadian delegate, Walter A. Riddell, supported sanctions against Italy without first conferring with Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and was subsequently forced to withdraw support. This embarrassing incident illustrates Canada’s unenthusiastic support for the League’s efforts to curb the aggressiveness of member states. This shortsightedness had future consequences.

Raoul Dandurand
Raoul Dandurand
© League of Nations Archives, UNOG Library
The Council contained 4 permanent members (France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan) and 10 non-permanent members who were elected for three-year terms. In 1929, Canada served as a non-permanent member, represented by Raoul Dandurand, who called for the protection of minority groups in Eastern Europe.

The League had several key successes but ultimately failed to prevent another world war.

The United Nations, a concept proposed by American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, replaced the League on April 18, 1946. When, on June 26, 1945, the Charter of the United Nations was signed in San Francisco, Canada was among the original 51 member states. At the League’s final Assembly, Lord Robert Cecil, one of its founders, stated: “The League is dead, long live the United Nations!”

Sir Robert Laird Borden and William Lyon Mackenzie King are both National Historic Persons.

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