Canada's Two Years of War and Their Meaning

By P. T. McGrath

[The American Review of Reviews, August 1916]

[Mr. McGrath, who has frequently written for the REVIEW OF REVIEWS on topics related to Newfoundland and Canada, Is President of the Legislative Council of Newfoundland. For a quarter of a century Mr. McGrath has been the most conspicuous journalist of his country—having served as correspondent of the London Times and contributed to many foreign magazines and other periodicals. He is the managing director of the St. John's Evening Herald.—THE EDITOR.]

Two years of war have seen Canada effecting achievements on behalf of the British Empire which not even the most farseeing contemplated when the present world struggle began in August, 1914. She has raised an army now within measurable distance of 500,000 men. She has increased her grain acreage so as to gain the third place among the wheat-producing countries of the world, exceeded only by United States and Russia. Financially she has transformed her situation entirely, becoming a credit or instead of a debtor nation and raising a domestic loan for the first time in her history, as an earnest of her whole-hearted spirit. Industrially, she has expanded enormously and gained a position not easily described in figures, and she has evolved an entirely new pursuit, that of munition-making, which daily grows in magnitude and importance.

Economically all these factors have contributed to create a flood of prosperity similar to that enjoyed by the United States and the effect of which is to stimulate every class and element throughout the Dominion to ever-increasing efforts in behalf of the cause to which she has dedicated herself, believing, as she does, that not only victory, but safety rests with big battalions and adequate preparedness. All these developments have been of the greatest benefit to the mother country, but surpassing them even has been the moral advantage accruing to Great Britain in the struggle through the whole-hearted support which Canada, Australia, and the other self-governing dominions are according her, and which, there is reason to believe, will result in a rearrangement of the relations of the motherland and the oversea possessions of the British Empire after the war is over.


The tale of Canada's military achievements in two years can best be told by a few illuminating comparisons. Her first contingent of 30,000 men, sent across the Atlantic in October, 1914, in thirty ships, was the largest individual force ever convoyed across a waste of waters in modern times, and its transfer was doubly significant in being effected with the second largest navy in the world impotently bottled up in the Kiel Canal, unable to make any effort to prevent it. By the spring of 1915 Canada had increased the force sent across the Atlantic to 60,000, or equal to the British army landed in France in the first month of the war. In slightly over a year it had grown to 90,000, somewhat more than the force (87,114) which England sent to the Crimea during the two years of that historic conflict. By the end of 1915 Canada's total oversea was 120,000, or twice the American force actually engaged in the Spanish war during the four months it lasted.

At the end of last April the Canadian enlistment exceeded 310,000—30,000 eliminated by casualties, 65,000 "at the front," 70,000 in England, 135,000 training in Canada (and most of them ready to send across as the Admiralty's dispositions admitted of transport), and 10,000 retained there for garrison and outpost duties; while enlistments continued at the rate of 5000 a week. This was a larger force than the British force in South Africa during the four years of the Boer War, or than the whole British Army when the present struggle began, and to bring it into existence called for the creation of a larger administrative machinery than the entire British "War Office" in time of peace.

Canada's original contingent was larger than that of purely British troops under Wellington's command at Waterloo; and in the great fighting of Neuve-Chapelle in April, 1915, Canada's losses were larger than those sustained by the British forces in that King-conquering struggle a century before. Creasy in his "Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World" estimates the population of the United States at the Declaration of Independence as two and a half millions; and Mulhall, in his "Dictionary of Statistics," estimates that during the five years that war lasted, 288,200 Americans fought for their country. When it is remembered that all Canada's fighting men have to be transported across the Atlantic to reach the battlefields, and that in the face of menaces like the submarine and the modern battleships, which did not exist 140 years ago, the true significance of this undertaking will be best realized.


Moreover, Canada has unlisted, uniformed, equipped, trained, and transported these men at her own cost and is paying, equipping, provisioning, and munitioning them in the field in the same way, though they are fighting 3000 miles from her own shores. Then she is doing all this on a scale truly munificent. The rate of pay for the Canadians—rising upwards from $1.10 a day for the privates—is not alone vastly above that paid by other nations in former wars, but without a parallel now, save in Australia and New Zealand. The British soldier gets about thirty cents and Continental countries pay only a fraction of that.

The dependents of Canadian soldiers also get from the state $20 a month for wives or widowed mothers, similarly well above the allowances made by European countries, except the British, and Canada again supplements this by the generosity of the Canadian people, "who have raised a Patriotic Fund for this purpose—the contributions to which, from the beginning of the war up to the end of April last, or for twenty-one months, amounted to $10,327,000, of which over seven million dollars had been disbursed, the remainder being required for the rest of the current year; and for which another ten million dollars will be required in 1917 if the war continues. For a country so young as Canada, with comparatively few wealthy men, this is especially noteworthy.

Lastly, to care for those disabled in the struggle, or the dependents of those who fall, a pension scheme has been adopted by Canada, even more generous than that of the United States after the Civil War, giving the totally disabled private, or the widow of one killed in action $480 a year and increasing; for higher ranks, so that the outlay will involve, for every 100,000 men in the fighting line, an increase in Canada's annual burdens in the future of about seven million dollars a year. In addition plans are maturing whereby the caring for the wounded and invalided through the establishing of hospitals and sanatoriums, and the fitting of them for civil employments again through the utilizing of technical schools and other agencies, will be carried out on a scale the like of which the world has never yet seen.

Of the military efficiency and fighting qualities of the Canadian soldiers it is needless to speak. After raising by the voluntary system for a war in which her interest, from some viewpoints,, is only indirect, as large a force proportionately as the Northern States raised in the Civil War until the "draft" system was put in effect, she pitted them against the exponents of militarism in the extremest form the world has ever seen, and how nobly they met the test the battlefields of Flanders will proclaim until time shall be no more. To-day every fourth adult male in Canada has enlisted or is preparing to enlist, and the patriotism of the ''home-stayer" in providing thus generously for the loved ones of the bread-winners gone to war is something the world may well marvel at in these days when sentiment is supposed to give place to hard sense.


Of course, Canada has not faced this crisis without assuming financial burdens of a character similar to, if not as crushing as those which are bearing down the nations of Europe to almost as great an extent as the actual loss of men is doing. Canada's public debt before the war was $336,000,000, and her Finance Minister, when making his Budget Speech in Parliament on February 15th, estimated it at $580,000,000 for the fiscal year to end on March 31st, while he indicated that the country was faced with an increase of debt during the next fiscal year of $250,000,000, which would make her funded obligations at the end of March, 1917, some $830,000,000, so that it is probably no exaggeration to say that by the time the war is over and all the claims arising therefrom are met, the total public debt of Canada will be about one billion dollars. This, on a 5 per cent interest basis, will cost $50,000,000 a year to carry. Then, on top of that will come a large pension list, probably not less than $20,000,000 a year, making a total for interest and pensions of $70,000,000 per annum.

When it is considered that similar charges before the war were only $13,000,000 and that the sum of $70,000,000 which Canada will be called upon to bear in the future, represents over half of the revenue of the country in normal times (not including revenues from war taxes) the greatness of the load will be better realized. Her war outlay alone is five million dollars a week at present, or twice her entire expenditure for all public services in pre-war days, and, of course, the financial obligations of her military undertaking must increase in direct ratio as her armed forces grow in numbers. Yet two years ago a man who would have suggested that such things would befall in the peaceful Dominion, the aim of which, as Sir Wilfrid Laurier had previously said, was to "avoid being drawn into the vortex of European militarism" would have been regarded as insane. But now Canada is showing the same determination as the mother country in the carrying on this war until the aim is attained which Asquith and Grey have so clearly set out.

Besides Canadian soldiers doing their part on the battlefield and Canadian statesmen providing, for the monetary problems involved, patriotism of no meaner order was exhibited by the Canadian farmers, who last year responded splendidly to an appeal by their leaders for a larger production of grain by seeking an enormously increased acreage throughout the, West, and harvesting grain crops unapproached in her history. The year 1914 saw a crop failure and consequent widespread depression, notably in the West, but despite this the acreage was 37¼ millions against 33½ millions in 1914, and 35½ millions in 1912, the largest previously recorded, and the yield in bushels increased from 713½ millions to 1054 millions, or over 50 per cent, which phenomenal harvest produced the amazing money value of $789,000,000, so that, although the production from forests, mines, and fisheries remained only about normal, the total of Canada's primary production last year exceeded one billion dollars ($1,123,169,000) for the first time in her history. The producing of this vast crop, one which materially assisted in reducing the price of the world's most important foodstuff at a time when, by all the laws appertaining to periods of international stress and strain, the rate should have materially advanced, was a gain to Canada and the Motherland which cannot easily be computed, and the feat is one which Canadian farmers plan to duplicate the present year with the like object in view.


The war has compelled Canada to make great manufacturing progress, likewise. Granted that for the time being war orders represent a large proportion of the manufacturing increase, it must inevitably follow that permanent manufacturing industries will be the outcome, because the factories now devoted to making munitions will at the close of hostilities be converted into works where various forms of requisites for the pursuit of peaceful avocations will be produced in great quantity. It is estimated by competent authorities that some $600,000,000 worth or, roundly, about half the production of Canadian factories to-day, is represented by war orders—not alone for shells and similar material, but also for the list of other things which the effective conduct of a war entails, and this implies, first, that there has been a substantial transfer of manufacturing enterprises from other forms of work to the satisfying of war orders since these began to be placed in Canada; second, that there has been also a great increase in the number of Canadians engaged in manufacturing; and third, that there has been an enormous investment of Canadian capital employed for these purposes.

War orders have embraced many industries, such as leatherware, auto-cars, iron and steel products, lumber, milling and canning industries, and the like, and one writer has said that Canada has been making for war purposes everything from buttons to submarines, from boots to aeroplanes. Not alone has Britain been served in these respects, but her Allies as well and Nova Scotia has been producing box cars for the Siberian railways to be shipped via Vladivostok, while from Alberta have come vast supplies of flour and grain and cannery products for the use of the French armies. This will continue, of course, until the war ends, and even for some time afterwards there will be demands for such of Canada's products as will meet the needs of peace times.

But following closely in the wake of a peace treaty, there must come an industrial and economic revolution in the Dominion, a revolution induced by the fact that a nation of only eight million people has undertaken these vast and varied activities, and that it will have to face entirely new problems when the European struggle ends. The aftermath of the war will be a diminution of exports because war orders will cease, a diminution of imports because of an "unemployed" problem due to the return of hundreds of thousands of soldiers who will have to be reabsorbed into the existing industries of the country or satisfied by new industries created for them, and a readjustment by all forms of trade to a new and more permanent condition. This, however, should shortly afterwards give place to a few years of great business activity, increasing production, and an expansion of exports occasioned by the reconstruction of the vast areas of Europe desolated by the war. After that, when Europe is rebuilt and the multitudes therein settled down to years of poverty and depression, to re-create homesteads, and villages, and towns, and cities destroyed by the war, will doubtless follow a period of world-wide reaction which will be the critical time for Canada, because she will then have to meet the contingency of a vast inrush of people from the war-swept areas of the Old World, seeking in the western hemisphere a relief from the possibility of a renewal of the horrible conditions that existed during the weary months and years of carnage.


One speaks advisedly, of the ten years following the war as a dangerous period for Canada. In the matter of her domestic problems she will have to cope with conditions unexampled in the world's history. There will be, first, the vast multitudes of men with military training, altered habits of life, disciplinary instincts and a new intelligence, who will leave their impress on every phase of the activities of the country. Already there is talk of the creating of a "Grand Army of the Dominion" like the Grand Army of the Republic which was so important a factor in the internal life of the American republic in the generation that followed the Civil War, and whether this materializes or not, few will deny that the assuming of military service will have opened new vistas of existence for thousands, and will have unfitted them for their pre-war careers, while, of course, the war, by opening up to women countless new occupations, will have so altered the ordinary avenues of employment as to compel the returned soldiers to find other means of livelihood, and the whole tendency of modern ideas is to invoke the aid of the state in such cases, to cope with problems which will not lend themselves to solution by ordinary methods.

It is true that after the American Civil War vast armies of returned soldiers created a problem for America somewhat akin to that which Canada will have before her. In America it was solved in part by the fact that the vast West had scarcely been opened up, and that the building of-railways and the creating of new States helped materially to deal with it. In Canada's case the railways have, in a large measure, preceded population; and have indeed created for her a new problem already, exemplified by the fact that at the recent session of the Canadian Parliament substantial monetary aid had to be provided to help the Canadian Northern and Grand Trunk Railway systems to tide over difficulties to which the war had given rise, owing to the impossibility of their floating railway securities in the British markets while hostilities continue, because the Imperial Government restricts the investments by British capitalists entirely to war bonds and other securities issued by the Imperial Government, the governments of her various overseas possessions, and the governments of the countries with which she is allied.

The present railway situation in Canada, therefore, has given force to the argument that the time has come for the nationalization of the various railway systems there. Doubtless the strongest argument for this is that most European countries have nationalized these agencies and that in Britain itself, since the war began, the state has virtually controlled the existing railroads. What may be regarded as the first step had been taken, moreover, in Canada, already, by railroad regulation—if not by actual nationalization of the railways. A railway commission, with all the powers of a Supreme Court of judicature, had been for years past in control of Canada's railways, and with highly satisfactory results, so that it seemed to many but a step from that to the actual acquisition of the lines themselves and all that this imports.


Canada's domestic problems will also be aggravated by the certainty that after the war there will be a vast inrush of people from the European countries that have suffered so frightfully by the present struggle seeking refuge in the vast Northwest from the contingencies of a fitful or even a lasting peace, in the war-swept areas which lately housed them. Some observers predict a doubling of Canada's population within the next twenty years as a result of this and point to what happened in America in the generation after the War of Secession to illustrate what they think will happen in Canada also. They profess to see the political equilibrium likely disturbed, and the center of political gravity, which is now Ontario, shifted to the Prairie Provinces, and passing from the hands of the English-speaking communities to the multitudes speaking strange tongues and coming from strange lands, who it is thought will do much to people the vast areas still unploughed in the fertile West and lay the sites of future cities in the wilderness.

Arising out of these new conditions will be the problems of governing, educating, and assimilating such diverse elements. Allied therewith will be the problems of production and consumption, manufacture, and distribution, importing and exporting, and the thousand and one other matters that this will give form to, not, as ordinarily, in lesser degrees and by gradual stages, but in the larger aspect and compelling immediate attention. These may well tax the statesmanship of Canada in the coming years, and fortunate will it be for her if her public men are able to rise to the occasion.


The chief external problem which she will have to consider is that of her future relations with the other parts of the British Empire. It is unbelievable that after a war like the present, in which the various units of the British Empire have been brought together in the fashion they have, their political relations to each other can revert to what they were before this struggle began. Necessarily at the present time, nothing but the most speculative contemplations are possible with regard to this aspect of the matter, because none can tell how long the war will last, under what conditions it will end, and what new complications will develop in the meantime. But if anything emerges from a consideration of the matter from the viewpoint of imperial consolidation, it is that the relations of Great Britain and her great Dominion must undergo a complete change at the end of this war and that Canada as the largest of the "Colonies" must blaze the trail for the new status of the motherland and those younger nations now arising in America, Africa, and the antipodes.

In perhaps one respect more than any other this problem will be rendered acute by the question of naval preparedness after the war. It may be recalled that at the end of 1912 Sir Robert Borden's Government in Canada proposed to present three dreadnoughts to the mother country as a gift, but that this policy was so vehemently opposed by the Laurier Opposition that the Ottawa Senate, with a "Liberal" majority, rejected the measure and brought this scheme to nothing. Throughout the war Canada has been, navally, a negligible quantity, depending for her protection, absolutely and altogether, on the British fleet. Such cannot, of course, continue after hostilities cease and an imperial "stock-taking" comes to be essayed. Canada's experience heretofore in naval matters indicates that she will have to depend for the maintenance of this defensive arm, in a large measure on Newfoundland, which possesses a great supply of sailorly material such as Canada does not enjoy, that has already been utilized on Canada's behalf in completing the crew of the solitary warship Niobe which Canada maintained in the Atlantic in the early months of the struggle. A measure of naval cooperation must imply political association between Britain and Canada. This, in turn, must mean some share in the administrative control of the common empire, which must also necessitate that the relations between the "United Kingdom" and the "Overseas Dominions" shall be reconstructed on the basis of a union of some sort, rather than the loose tie which now prevails.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013.

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A Novel of World War One
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