The First World War - Conscription & The War Effort

Questions to ask yourself:

How does government use its power?

What you will be able to do:

Describe the measures implemented by the government of Canada during wartime.

Explain the Canadian war effort.

Explain the different points of view on the conscription crisis of 1917.

Engage: Imagine war experiences by reacting to images

Look deeply at one or more of some selected pictures, from a wide range of different locations during the first world war. Consider titles given to the images by your teacher, any available texts or web site links, zoom in and around the documents when necessary. Observe shapes, colours, textures, the position of people and/or objects in the frame. Observe the foreground, middleground and background too. Respond to the images! Use an organizer available already on our Google drawing sample images, that you can copy and edit to use. Work collaboratively to note down your questions, connect any historical events you already know about, share your impressions!

Watch an overview video about World War 1.

Consider also guiding questions like: How does government use its power?

One option is the video “Canada World War 1”. “This video tells the story of Canada's role in World War One, both overseas in the trenches of the Western Front and on the home front. While this global conflict forged a new sense of nationhood in the British colony, the cost to Canada in killed and wounded was high. This history is recounted using archival footage, photographs, posters, songs from the period and soldiers' letters home.”

In small groups review how the war started, how Canada got involved, and where and how they fought. Review any other personal experiences of soldiers and other participants that you had not thought of in the image analysis activity earlier.

Write down and share any questions you have. Consider using an organizer like this 5W's organizer.

Explore: Imagine the Life of a Canadian Soldier

"The war on the Western Front was fought in trenches – long, narrow, deep, and muddy ditches. The Canadian infantry were rotated in and out of the trenches as it was the most dangerous place on earth to be, and it was extraordinarily uncomfortable. The soldiers lived with vermin such as rats, lice, maggots, and flies which created serious health risks. The trenches were also constantly exposed to the weather. Here is what a day in the trenches looked like for soldiers."

Learn more about the "The Realities of War" at

The War Measures Act: Suspending of Civil Liberties

The War Measures Act was a federal law adopted by Parliament on 22 August 1914, after the beginning of the First World War. It gave broad powers to the Canadian government to maintain security and order during “war, invasion or insurrection.” It was used, controversially, to suspend the civil liberties of people in Canada who were considered “enemy aliens” during both world wars. This led to mass arrests and detentions without charges or trials. Source: Smith, D., War Measures Act (2020). In The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Volunteers or Conscription?

"For the first two years of war, Canada relied on a voluntary system of military recruitment. [...] Throughout the war, but especially in its early months, Canadians rushed to enlist for reasons of patriotism, adventurism, opposition to German aggression, or personal ties to Great Britain. Public attitudes also influenced individual decisions, in particular the widespread view in many parts of the country that those who failed to enlist were cowards."

Read more at Voluntary Recruitment at

What is conscription?

“Conscription is the compulsory enlistment or “call up” (sometimes known as “the draft”) of citizens for military service.

… “Under conscription, all males of a certain age must register with the government for military service. In some countries, females are also conscripted. Once registered, these people may be “called up” for military service. Some people may be exempt (or excused) from mandatory military service. This could include people in certain occupations or who suffer from physical or mental illness or disability.

Source: Granatstein, J.,, & Jones, R., Conscription in Canada (2020). In The Canadian Encyclopedia.

Conscription? “A Momentous Debate"

"The 1917 conscription debate was one of the fiercest and most divisive in Canadian political history. French-Canadians, as well as many farmers, unionized workers, non-British immigrants, and other Canadians, generally opposed the measure. English-speaking Canadians, led by Prime Minister Borden and senior members of his Cabinet, as well as British immigrants, the families of soldiers, and older Canadians, generally supported it."

Source: Conscription, 1917 at

View various "Objects & Photos" at

Investigate of the Conscription Crisis:Compare Different Reactions and Perspectives.

Research further, always considering key questions like: How do individuals experience war, and how do those efforts affect the outcomes of wars? and Why were certain historical events “significant”?

Use available documents on this page or in our larger collection specifically here. Follow links to the various online sources to research the various contexts for the need for conscription, the efforts of the Canadian government to recruit soldiers, the reactions of different peoples in Canada, etc.

To go even further, you could compare different conscription and volunteer experiences in other countries at the time (some documents in our collections refer to these experiences). Reflect on whether this process was needed, was good for the country, and on the significance for Canadians, Quebecois, and other groups.

Use an organizer like this one to take notes and gather examples that could be then shared with the class or used in discussions and debates on the issues

Land, Air and Sea: The Canadian War Effort and Contributions

"Contribution on Land: Canadian infantrymen were on the Western Front in January 1915 and in March the 1st Canadian Division took part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. In April Canadians fought in the Second Battle of Ypres [...] From April to August 1916 the corps fought in the defence of Ypres, until it moved to fight in the Battle of the Somme. On 9th April 1917 it captured Vimy Ridge, which had withstood all attacks for two years. Though this victory cost the Canadian Corps 10,000 casualties, it was certainly a great military success, and ensured that Vimy Ridge would later be chosen as the site of Canada's National Memorial. [See source for dates for ] Hill 70, north of Arras. … Passchendaele on 6th November 1917 suffering 15,000 casualties in the process. … Amiens, when the Germans launched their last big offensive… and others

Contribution in the Air: As events soon proved, Canadians excelled in aerial combat. In providing many members of the Royal Flying Corps, the Royal Naval Air Service and later the Royal Air Force, Canada made a great contribution in this field. More than 23,000 Canadian airmen served with British Forces and over 1,500 died. The Commonwealth's highest scoring airman to survive the war was a Canadian: Lieutenant Colonel W.A. Bishop VC, with 72 victories.

Contribution on the Sea: Canadian naval participation in the 1914-1918 War was limited, as its newly formed navy possessed only two old cruisers. However, many thousands went to serve with the Royal Navy. Fleets of Canadian trawlers and small craft carried out mine-sweeping and anti-submarine operations in coastal waters."

Text snippets from Courage Remembered, by K. Ward & Major Edwin Gibson. Via Canada's Role in WWI

Lieutenant-Colonel W A 'Billy' Bishop VC, of No 60 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, one of the leading fighter aces of the First World War, standing in front of his Nieuport 17 Scout at Filescamp, France.

Source: via Wikipedia.

Investigate the Canadian War Effort:

Describe Facts and Situate a Battle, and Explain the Consequences of that battle, both immediate and long-term!

In partner-groups research various battles in which Canadian soldiers were involved. Try this Google Search for battles in which Canadian soldiers were involved or view our document section here.

With your findings on a particular battle event during the war, map out the locations, events and players of that/those particular battle(s), using Cartograf or Google Maps, or another mapping or presentation technology. For each battle also explain the Canadian involvement and role, and the significance of their efforts.

This task is explained in greater detail in our main document collection here. And... a demonstration Cartograf map has already been started (It was for teacher use and for information on the MAIN causes of WW1, but feel free to take a look!)

Document Collections and Curated Web Sites:

Other tasks and the rest of our main document collection are here

An overview of some student task suggestions has also begun in slides below:

#14b WW1 Conscription, Government and the Canadian War effort 1896-1945 Nationalisms&Canada
LIVE - Inquiry Phases - WW1 War Experiences