"[How dare you] ask a man to go out and risk his life and when he returns, calmly request him to hand in his uniform, and in exchange hand him a pittance that will reduce a once self-respecting citizen to a miserable pauper, dependent on either charity or friends." Helen Armstrong
When the First World War ended in November 1918, Canadian soldiers returned to a very different country than they had left.
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Voices of Discontent
Between 1914 and 1918 Canada’s economy was stimulated by the industrial effort, supported by the conservative government of Robert Borden. At the end of the war, the country fell into uncertainty.
Soldiers didn't come home to the better world that they had hoped for. War factories were shutting down, triggering bankruptcies and unemployment. Those with jobs could not keep up with inflation. The cost of living rose by 64 per cent over 1913. People also remembered the huge profits some manufacturers made during the war, seen to be at the expense of workers and soldiers.
Canadians were angry. Some wanted better wages and working conditions. Others just wanted jobs. The atmosphere was ripe for revolt.
On May 15, 1919, 30,000 union and non-union workers in Winnipeg walked off the job in support of striking metal workers. The Winnipeg General Strike would last more than a month, highlighted by mass protests and eventually violence in the city. It was the largest social revolt in Canadian history.
On the political front, Canadians were also angry and active. In Quebec, Lionel Groulx gave a boost to French Canadian nationalism and courted separtism. The Maritime provinces demanded that federal government take their economic difficulties seriously.
Some of the loudest voices for change came from rural Canada. When the economic boom of the war years ended, farmers faced difficult times. Wheat prices fell by 60 per cent between 1920-1922 while farm costs rose. Prairie farmers struggled with the cost of mechanization and had to pay heavy taxes to finance the construction of roads and schools needed to accommodate the influx of immigrants.
In response to raising discontent with the government, farmers began to organize politically. From 1919 to 1922, farmers made a huge splash on the Canadian political scene when agrarian-based parties won provincial elections in Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. In 1921, the farmer-based Progressive Party won enough seats in the federal election to form the official opposition.
The 1921 federal election also marked the first time all Canadian women could vote. In 1918, the government had extended the right to vote to all women 21 years old and over, concluding years of lobbying by women's groups.
In 1921, Agnes Macphail ran as a candidate for the Progressives in Grey County, Ontario. She was the first woman elected to the House of Commons.
William Lyon Mackenzie King led his Liberal Party to victory in the federal election that year. During the 1920's, King set about improving the economic conditions of the Maritimes and the western provinces. When prosperity returned to Canada after 1925, the unrest that marked the post-war years began to quiet down.