This Week in History


Defending our Nation: Sir Robert Laird Borden

For the week of Monday July 14, 2014

On July 14, 1915, during the First World War, Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden participated in a cabinet meeting of the United Kingdom in London, England. He was the first Canadian Prime Minister to attend such a meeting.

Portrait of Sir Robert Borden, Prime Minister of Canada, 1911-20
©Library and Archives Canada / C-11238 / 1995

Borden was born in 1854 in Grand Pré, Nova Scotia. In 1901, he became the Conservative Party leader, and then Prime Minister in 1911. The First World War began three years later and under his leadership, 33,000 Canadian soldiers were mobilized and sent overseas.

As the war progressed, Borden was invited to England on numerous occasions. In July 1915, he attended a British cabinet meeting and visited with injured Canadian soldiers who were being treated in British hospitals. He returned again in 1917 to participate in an Imperial War Conference to discuss the war effort and peace terms. While there he also visited the Canadian Corps at the war front and again met with injured Canadian soldiers.

Prime Minister Robert Borden being greeted by supporters
© Library and Archives Canada / C-009665

Borden was deeply marked by the soldiers’ experiences and acutely aware of the dwindling number of them available for war. Upon his return to Canada, he enacted the Military Service Act, which enforced conscription and made military service for eligible men mandatory.This aggravated existing tensions within Canadian society. Some pacifist communities were exempt from the law due to their religious beliefs. Others were not, nor were the French-Canadians who were outraged by the imposition of conscription. Protests erupted in Quebec.

After the war ended, Borden returned to London in 1919 to take part in the peace talks. When the League of Nations was created, Borden insisted that Canada be recognized as an autonomous nation within the British Empire.

Sir Robert Laird Borden is a person of historical importance, in part for having asserted Canada’s independence among the major powers. This year marks the 160th anniversary of his birth.

This year also marks the first year of the centennial anniversary of the First World War! To learn more about Prime Minister Borden and the First World War, please read : The First Black Battalion in Canada, Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps Founded, The Canadian Military Reaches New Heights, The League of Extraordinary Hopes: Canada and the League of Nations and Lest We Forget in the This Week in History Archives as well as Conscription on the Canadian War Museum website. For more on the First and Second World Wars, visit the Government of Canada’s World War Commemorations page.

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