The Significance of Canada’s Military Throughout History

The Significance of Canada’s Military Throughout History

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Canada’s role in the military commonly included contributing to worldwide peacekeeping efforts. For the past thousand years, Canada has been the home of many First Nations. As early as the 16th century, Europeans began to settle in Canada. This led to some conflicts with the First Nation inhabitants. In the 17th century, conflicts also began to arise between the British and French as they allied with First Nation members of Canada.

The Canadian Federation took place in 1867. The federation united British North, America, and Canada into one. On July 1, 1867, the Dominion of Canada formed four provinces; Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

After the confederation, a military of Canada was established. Canada and Britain joined forces during the Boer War and WWI. Canada formed a strong bond with British forces and continued supporting each other during WW2.

After WW2, Canada became a multilateralist country with other larger countries. Canada has only participated in conflicts in the Gulf War, the Kosova War, the Korean War and Afghanistan since the end of WW2. Canada has also offered peacekeeping aid to the United Nations and worldwide. 

What is a Multilateral?

Multilateral means joining forces with three or more other nations in war and military efforts. This strategy reduces tariffs. With a multilateral agreement, all signatories are treated equally. It also enhances smooth imports and exports. 


Multilateral agreements offer many advantages including:

  • They strengthen the economy.
  • Create a competition between other countries
  • Offer economic benefits 
  • Promotes globalization
  • Increased trade opportunities


  • Sometimes it can be difficult to negotiate.
  • May receive controversy and protests
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  • Some regions may suffer when borders change.
  • Many small businesses can not compete.
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Canada’s military involvement throughout our history.

Military Conflicts of First Nation Members of Canada

The first conflicts between First Nation members of Canada and Europeans began as early as 1006. Norsemen settlers tried to establish residences along the Newfoundland coastline. The First Nation members of the Beothuk tribe retaliated with force, causing the Europeans to change their minds about settling there. The First Nations in the area received a reputation as being savage and violent towards newcomers. They were also known to torture and kill intruders who attempted to invade their land.

However, First Nations warfare generally consisted of ritualistic approaches to solving conflicts with few casualties. But when provoked, there is also evidence that stronger warfare was used by First Nations to protect their land. Examples of battle gear used by First Nation members include:

  • The bow and arrow
  • Hand-made wooden armour
  • Firearms
  • Horses

First Nation members became critical allies during the 17th and 18th centuries. 

Image Source: The Canada Guide
Military conflicts arose between First Nation members of Canada and Europeans.

French Settlers to Canada

In 1608, the Samuel de Champlain settlement was established in Quebec. The new French settlers joined the Native alliance of Huron-Algonkian in conflict with other native communities such as the Iroquois Confederacy.

In the first battle with the Iroquois, the French took out a large group of natives with powerful firepower. The native Iroquois fought back hard with their knowledge of the land and their powerful hunting skills. They also used firearms given to them by the Dutch, developing a defence force against the French.

The battle between the Iroquois and the French continued on and off until 1703. They finally agreed to make peace with each other.

In the 1750s, the French used the natives’ welfare tactics to take on their northern rivals during the Seven Year War. The French population in Quebec City and Louisbourg was 1,500,000. Whereas, their rival’s population was about 60,000.


In the 18th century, the French fought with English colonies in North America during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1703, the War of Austrian Succession in 1744 and the Seven Year War in 1756. As a result of the War of Austrian Succession, New England captured Louis Bourg in 1745. The treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle put an end to the war in 1748. 

French Involvement in the Seven-Year War

The Seven Year War took place in 1754. It was known as the French and Indian War, which today is not politically correct to say anymore in textbooks. The French war began because the French wanted to challenge American allies for trade and land in the Appalachian Mountains. This land was claimed by the British colonies. In 1753, the French built several military forts in preparation for the battle. In 1756, war was declared. 

During the Seven Year War, the French defeated a total of 2000 soldiers, compared to a loss of 350 French soldiers.

Although the first years of war were successful for French soldiers, in 1759 the French were defeated. In an attempt to salvage some of their losses, France allied with Spain. Despite the alliance, France still suffered further defeat, causing them to sue for peace in 1762.

France finished the war with substantial debt that took them well into the 18th century to attempt to repay.

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French Settlers to Canada preparing for military action.

Military Conflicts Between Canada and the United States of America

The American Revolution began in 1775. American forces invaded Canada. Americans occupied Montreal and forced an attack on Quebec. They also raided ports in Nova Scotia. Although the American forces were defeated in Canada, 13 American colonies who fought for independence in the British colonies would win that battle. This battle caused a wave of emigration to Canada.

Québec Act

The Quebec Act was passed in 1774. It offered religious freedoms to Roman Catholics. It also provided order to civil law in Québec. The act saw an increase in Quebec’s population, sparking an idea for Americans to expand their western colonies. In return, war broke out between USA and British forces at Lexington, Massachusetts in 1775. In September that same year, American forces seized Fort Chambly in Quebec. 

In May of 1776, British troops came to the aid of Canada, bringing 4000 troops. As a result of their efforts, the Americans left Montreal, ending the invasion. The American soldiers expected French Canadians to join forces with them and fight Britain. They misjudged Canada’s loyalty to Britain.

 The War of 1812

The bad blood continued between the United Kingdom and the United States. This turned into a gun-shooting match when the US declared war on Britain in 1812. The Americans did not have a strong navy defence. Therefore, they invaded Canada to gain access to the British Empire.

The war across the border of Upper Canada was launched on land and the waters of the Great Lakes.

In 1814, US and British forces agreed on signing a peace treaty. The treaty restored the borders to their original existence before the war had begun. Although Canada’s defence relied heavily on British troops, the Navy and Indian allies, the war was considered a victory for Canada.

The threat that Americans might attempt to retaliate and conquer Canada became a growing concern for at least half a century following the War of 1812. Between 1820 and 1840, Canada built extensive forts and underground bomb shelters to prepare for their enemy attacks. These forts were located in:

  • Quebec
  • Halifax
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  • Kingston 
  • Fort Henry
  • Ottawa, Rideau Canal

It was not until the 1950s that the fears of invasion had diminished. A treaty was negotiated between the USA and Canada in 1854 to further put a rest on any war concerns.

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Canadian and USA military flags were hanging side by side.

Types of Canadian Military

Canadian Militia

Canada took full responsibility for its military defence. Britain agreed to send help if any emergencies should arise. The Royal Navy also offered to provide water defence for Canada. Small military forces were established in Kingston and Quebec.

In 1883, another military school was added. An army of military soldiers was created. It was intended to serve as the backbone of a larger militia force. It would create the military defence effort of Canada.

Every healthy man from 18 to 60 was eligible to be conscripted for military service if they needed to defend Canada when a conflict should arise. The Canadian militia comprised volunteers and included 31,170 men and officers from Canada.

During the following decades, the members of the militia attended summer training camps and paraded around in uniforms. Occasionally, members would be asked to serve as aid for civil emergencies and in the event of strikes. In 1884, Canadian militia was also called on to aid Brittian. Canada sent 386 Nile Voyageurs to the aid of Britain.

The British also asked Canadian militia for help during the Boer War. The Prime Minister at the time, Wilfred Laurier, sent 1000 soldiers, among others, to their aid. Canadian forces also fully participated in the deaths of thousands of civilians held in concentration camps during the Boer War.

The Canadian Navy 

After Canada’s involvement in the Boer War, it began considering building its navy. For several decades, Canada relied on Britain for defence against attacks via water. Careful consideration was taken to decide whether Canada should give money to reinforce Britain’s Navy or build their navy. In 1910, the Royal Canadian Navy was created.

The first two Canadian navy ships were called Rainbow and the Niobe. The outdated ship named Rainbow was purchased from Britain. During WW1, the navy played a significant role in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

The Canadian Army

With British troops leaving Canada in the early 1900s, it was time for Canada to comprise its own Canadian Forces. Departments of the Canadian Army Forces include:

  • Engineer Corps
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  • Canadian Army Services
  • Signally Corps
  • Active Militia Army Medical Corps
  • Ordnance Stores Corps
  • Corps of Guides 1902
Image Source: Istock
Crossed arms Canadian soldier with a national flag on the background – Canada Military theme.

Canada’s Participation in World Wars

World War 1

In 1914, WW1 began when Britain declared war on Germany. Canadian soldiers were sent to fight on the Western Front. WW1 lasted from August 1, 1914, to November 11, 1918.

World War 1 consisted of four fronts located in Europe including:

  • Western Front
  • Eastern Front
  • Italian Front
  • Balkan Front

Towards the end of the war, Canadian soldiers were among the most respected and successful troops positioned on the Western Front. During the Battle of Sommes, Canadian soldiers were heavily feared by German troops.

Without being conscripted, however, the Canadian troops were limited to members who voluntarily enlisted. Conscription was later enforced by Sir Robert Bordon, who wished to ensure Canada’s contribution to the war effort was substantial. Although it was in favour of English-speaking Canadians, it was opposed by Quebec. Eventually, conscription sent 120,000 Canadian soldiers to fight in WW1. 47,000 of those were sent overseas.

The Western Front took the brunt of the action during WW1, including driving the German army out of occupied territories. The war ended in the Allies’ victory on November 11, when the Armistice was signed.


World War 2

World War 2 was a significant event in the history of Canada. It took place from September 1, 1939, to September 2, 1945. World War 2 transformed Canada from a quiet country into a member of the most critical event of the 20th century.

Canada contributed to the war effort by sending soldiers to western Europe. Canada also sent military members to Germany to aid in the air wars. From 1935 to 1945, more than a million Canadian men and women served in the armed forces. More than 43,000 never made it back home to their families. 

Despite the bloodshed and the battles fought, WW 2 offered some lasting benefits to Canada because of:

  •  Increasing the role of women in the workforce
  • Paving the way for NATO
  • Leaving a legacy of heroes to be honoured and remembered annually for the selfless sacrifices they made for the whole of our nation.
  • Giving women the right to vote

The war also united Canadians in a national cause, despite nearly tearing the country apart in the process. After the war ended, most Canadians emerged with the belief that they had gone through the battle together as one. The Canadian armed forces also went down in history as one of the most successful contributors to the Western Front. They had played an important part in the victory of seeing World War 2 come to an end.

Image Source: Supar
Canadian military soldiers during World War 1 on the Western Front.

Canadian Armed Forces Today

Today, the Canadian Armed Forces are split into three main branches, which include:

  • The Canadian Army – consisting of 123,000 full-time soldiers
  • The Royal Canadian Army – consisting of 13,000 full-time members.
  • The Royal Canadian Airforce – consisting of 8,000 full-time members.
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Canadian Military Armed Forces today.


Unlike other countries, these branches are governed by one leadership known as the Chief of Defence. The current Chief of Defence is General J.H. Vance, who reports to the Prime Minister of Canada

Every member of the Canadian Armed Forces risks their lives to courageously defend our country. They also offer international security and peace to our nation as a whole. Furthermore, they often have to spend months away from their family members, even during training. It is a selfless commitment that deserves respect.



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