Turmoil on the Homefront
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Turmoil on the Homefront
Canada experiences tensions and tragedy on the homefront during the First World War

"It is your duty, as Canadians and as British subjects, to do all you may possibly do to prevent the conscription bill from being voted ... Your first duty, as Canadians, whether of French or English blood, whether Catholic or Protestant, is to save Canada from ruin and suicide. — Henri Bourassa

Read these indepth articles about
Turmoil on the Homefront

Under Suspicion
People born in enemy countries face hostility and imprisonment in Canada during the First World War
Avoiding the War
Canada struggles to enlist more soldiers as causalities mount during the First World War
The Conscription Crisis
French Canada erupts in anger when the federal government forces its men to go to war
The Halifax Explosion
The largest explosion the world has ever known destroys much of the city
Profits for Lives
Canadian wartime manufacturers sacrifice lives for profits during the First World War
The Spanish Flu
A deadly virus rages throughout Canada at the end of the First World War
As the First World War raged in Europe, on the homefront Canada became a battleground of social and political turmoil, punctuated by a inconceivable tragedy in Halifax.

In 1914 at the outbreak of the war, Canadians believed it would be a short conflict, and the majortiy of them supported the country's war effort. Wilfrid Laurier, who was now the leader of the opposition, applauded Borden's initiatives. Even Henri Bourassa, a harsh critic of British imperialism, supported a limited Canadian involvement.

Rising tensions
But as the war dragged on internal tensions grew. More than 8,000 immigrants born in enemy countries were detained in 24 camps throughout Canada: Germans, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarians, Turks, Croats, Serbians and especially Ukrainians (then known as Galicians) who were guilty only of coming from a countries that belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

By 1916, the Canadian government was immersed in a scandal over shoddy war supplies. There were endless complaints from the frontlines about defective rifles, boots that rotted in the mud, and trenching shovels that were utterly useless.

Blame was placed on Colonel Sam Hughes, the Minister of the Militia for Canada. During his tenure, newspapers often published stories about the sudden fortunes made by his close allies, who received huge wartime contracts. In November 1916, public indignation finally forced Hughes to resign from Cabinet.

Conscription crisis
But the biggest crisis for the government would unfold as the war continued to rage in Europe. In 1916, Prime Minister Borden increased Canada�s military commitment to Britain from 250,000 to half a million men. All were to be volunteers, Borden pledged. But as casualties mounted and enrolment continued to drop, he retreated from his promise of no mandatory military service.

On July 24, 1917, the Military Service Act was enacted. French Canadians reacted with anger, feeling their government had no right to make them fight in what they felt was a British imperial war. Tensions culminated in Montreal in 1918 with four days of riots over Easter weekend.

Tragedy in Halifax
Apart from political scandal and internal conflict, Canada also suffered a great tragedy on the homefront. On the morning of December 6 1917, two ships carrying war supplies collided in Halifax harbour. One ship, the Mont-Blanc, caught fire and ignited 3,000 tonnes of munitions and explosives in its hold.

The explosion killed 2,000 people, and wounded another 9,000. Six-square kilometres of Halifax were wiped out.

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Horror on the Battlefield
Canadian soldiers prove their courage in the bloodiest infantry war the world has ever known

Voices of Discontent
Women, workers and farmers gain power in post-war Canada

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