Chapter VI – 1917

“We see small hope of escaping the clash which threatens us. How to make the clash as slight as possible is the task before our statesmen.” – Montreal Witness, 14 August 1917

Throughout the last months of 1916 Canada’s Prime Minister was under pressure from “patriotic” organizations in Ontario and the west to recognize that the limits of the voluntary system had been reached and some forms of compulsory military service was needed.[1] The argument in its simplest form was that with four divisions in the field the monthly “wastage rate” was roughly 6,000 men.[2] If less than 6,000 men volunteered each month, and a proportion of them were unfit for front line service, the Canadian Corps would eventually wither away. When the Canadians moved to the Somme in September 1916 monthly losses doubled and then doubled again creating a reinforcement crisis that left the infantry battalions severely understrength.

This was the common perception of the problem but the reality was quite different. The wastage rate included large numbers of men evacuated as sick or wounded who would return to their units. Dr. Andrew MacPhail, who wrote the official medical history, suggested that eighty-eight percent of the non-fatal casualties eventually returned to duty.[3] It was also evident that large numbers of men, 130,000 at the end of 1916, were training in England and a further 30,000 were still in Canada.[4] The Somme reinforcement crisis had more to do with Sam Hughes’ decision to hold back the best trained troops to create a fifth and if possible a sixth division.[5] The battles of 1917 from Vimy Ridge through Hill 70 and the horrors of Passchendaele did place considerable strain on the reinforcement system but more than 84,000 men were sent to France from training camps in England during 1917, none of them conscripts. Maintaining the combat power of four divisions, 67,000 men, was well within the capacity of the voluntary system in 1917.

Borden understood the reality as well as the perception and although he feared that “registration in the end means conscription and that might mean civil war in Quebec” he decided to create a National Service Board to gather information derived from the voluntary return of cards mailed to two million Canadians. Borden hoped that “an appeal for voluntary service would render unnecessary any resort to compulsion”. After the announcement he approached Laurier asking for his endorsement of the plan with the opportunity to nominate half the members of the Board. Laurier declined, refusing further co-operation with the Conservatives. He would, he said, “continue to serve according to his own ways”.[6]

The data from National Registration would not be available until well into the New Year but in the meantime Borden gathered his courage and forced the resignation of the Minister of Militia. With Sam Hughes gone the reorganization of the department and the overseas army administration could proceed quickly and although the prospect of activating a fifth division was kept alive, the necessary reinforcements reached France in time to rebuild the Canadian divisions for their part in the 1917 spring offensive.[7]

Next on the agenda was a well-publicized national recruiting campaign which began in Montreal. Borden met with Archbishop Bruchesi winning his support for registration by promising that the cards were not intended and would not be used to implement conscription. A public meeting at the Monument National provided the Prime Minister with a polite hearing but his cabinet colleague E. L. Patenaude and the Director of National Registration, the future Prime Minister, R. B. Bennett were interrupted and heckled especially by students from nearby Montreal campus of Laval University.[8]

After a meeting in Quebec City Borden spoke to large audiences in Ontario and the west winning grudging approval from pro-conscription groups, who accepted registration as a step towards their goal. When pressed by representatives of organized labour, Borden refused to renew his promise to stick to the voluntary system. “I hope”, he told the Trades and Labour Council officials, “that conscription may not be necessary but if it should prove the only effective method to preserve the existence of the state and of the institutions and liberties which we enjoy I should consider it necessary to act accordingly.”[9] Borden did not explain exactly how the “existence of the state” would be protected by finding another 100,000 men to fight in Flanders but few English-speaking Canadians cared about such details.[10]

The sudden death of Thomas Chase Casgrain[11], Borden’s senior Quebec Minister, forced the Prime Minister to find a replacement from his dwindling French Canadian caucus. Casgrain, whose Conservative credentials dated back to his role in the prosecution of Louis Riel, had used his newspaper L’Évenément to support the war effort and the Conservative party cause, making him a controversial figure in Quebec.     The man selected to replace Casgrain in the cabinet, Albert Sévigny, was one of the most ardent of Bourassa’s supporters in 1911 but he quickly abandoned his nationalist politics endorsing Borden’s naval policy and serving as Speaker of the House of Commons. Sévigny’s appointment as Minister of Inland Revenue required a by-election and initially Laurier was inclined to continue the political truce allowing an acclamation. Fears that a nationalist candidate might appear and local pressure to nominate the formidable provincial member for the riding Lucien Cannon, persuaded Laurier to change his mind. After a series of public debates (assemblées contradictoires), Sévigny’s promise to continue to provide “great material advantages” to the county convinced a majority of voters to stick with the Conservatives.[12] Montreal’s newspapers followed the contest closely with the nationalist and Liberal press attacking Sévigny mercilessly.[13] The Conservative victory was difficult to explain except in terms of the bribery of voters but it was also evident that rural Quebec, or at least Dorchester County was not yet caught up in the anti-government sentiment prevalent among the urban French Canadian elite.

Borden, reassured by Sévigny’s victory and the generally positive reaction to getting rid of Sam Hughes asked for an adjournment of parliament while he attended meetings of the Imperial War Cabinet (IWC) in London. The new British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George had established a five person War Cabinet, which together with a permanent secretary was supposed to streamline management of the war. He also decided to invite the Dominion Prime Ministers and a representative of the twenty-seven “large native states” in India to come to London “to be more formally consulted as to the progress and course of the war” and “the steps that ought to be taken to secure victory”.[14]  The presence of a “representative” of India and separation of the meetings of the real War Cabinet from the Imperial version clearly demonstrated the limitations of the system but as Craig Brown, Borden’s generally sympathetic biographer notes, the Canadian Prime Minister had his own agenda. He recognized that Lloyd George was seeking “more troops in return for consultation” but since Borden was already “rock solid” on sending more men he could use the IWC to pursue his own ideas, including a voice in Imperial policy, the direction of the war and the possible conditions for peace. Borden’s other wish list involved enhancing the prospects of Confederation with Newfoundland and Canadian control of the British West Indies.[15] Borden also wanted to escape from the problems of governing Canada and concentrate on larger questions, assuming the role of an international statesman.

None of these things were of much interest to Montrealers who were hunkering down to survive another winter. The first three months of 1917 provided them with daily mean temperatures well below freezing. On 3 February the thermometer dropped to 23 below causing a disruption in train and tramway service.[16]

The weather made life especially miserable for the men, women, girls and boys involved in an ongoing conflict in the city’s clothing industry. Gerald Tulchinsky argues that when wages failed to keep pace with the rising cost of living, the ground was prepared for a “new and more radical industrial union” – the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA).[17] The Amalgamated established locals in Montreal during the 1915 and was able to win union recognition and wage increases with two companies the following year. A third attempt to unionize the large Semi-Ready Factory, which was producing soldiers uniforms, met resistance from the owners and the newly formed Montreal Clothing Manufacturers Association (MCMA), created to develop a common front in the growing confrontation with the union. The President of the MCMA, Lyon Cohen was both a factory owner and a prominent member of the “uptown” or “westend” Jewish community an indication of the differences between the experience and values of established Jews and their working class co-religionists.

Sidney Hillman

The Semi-Ready strike was marked by violence against both picketers and strike-breakers with the police intervening to support the ‘scabs’ entering the plant. Sidney Hillman, the Amalgamated’s President, on a visit from New York, described “scenes of uncommon hardship… in temperatures of twenty below zero…” The picket lines, he wrote, “were filled mostly by young girls who came out at six in the morning…”[18] Young girls, largely French Canadian, and the skilled Jewish workers were determined to prevail and by mid-January 4000 were on strike. The Manufacturers’ Association took out newspaper ads published in both French and English charging the union with an attempt to control the work process and diminish production.[19] After repeated attempts at mediation failed and smaller firms began to settle with the union, “the longest, most bitter and probably most violent strike in the history of the Canadian needle trades industry…” ended with a compromise that allowed the MCMA to avoid dealing with the Amalgamated while accepting the recommendation of a Board of Inquiry for “a 48 hour week, a one dollar across the board increase and the recognition of shop committees.”[20]

Newsy Lalonde

Escape from the city’s troubles came in the form of familiar seasonal attractions. The movie palaces and vaudeville theatres flourished as did stage plays, concerts and hockey leagues. The Montreal Canadiens were playing in what proved to be the last season of the National Hockey Association. The “Flying Frenchmen”, as the English-language press insisted on calling the team, led by Newsy Lalonde and George Vézina, won the Stanley Cup in 1915 – 1916 and were equally successful in the first half of the new season playing against the Montreal Wanderers, Quebec Bulldogs, Ottawa Senators and two Toronto teams, the Blueshirts and the 228th Battalion.[21] Both Toronto teams withdrew from competition before the second half of the season began and Ottawa dominated the four team league. All of this provided sports writers and fans with much to talk about as did on-ice violence which seemed to reach a new peak. Penalties for tripping, slashing and fighting were so common that many games featured a continuous parade to the penalty box. The eastern final, a two game total point series between Ottawa and the Canadiens, was especially rough with Lalonde suspended for game two. The final match, played in Ottawa before 7,000, was described as the most violent and grueling game of the season. Ottawa won but without scoring enough goals to overcome the deficit from the first game in Montreal. The Canadiens therefore traveled to Seattle to defend their Stanley Cup title.[22]

Among the other activities that drew attention away from the war and divisive issues like Quebec’s recruiting record was the annual Montreal automobile show held in January. One third of all automobiles on the road in the United States were registered in 1916 and the proportion was similar for Canada. Everyone interested in this fascinating new technology was confident that sales in 1917 would exceed the previous record and there was enormous competition between established brands like Ford and dozens of rival companies. The Montreal show featured the Chalmers made by Allis-Chalmers, the Marmon, Maxwell, McLaughlin, and the Stanley Steamer as well as many other names that would soon disappear. The excitement all of this caused is evident in the newspaper coverage of the show and the follow up stories and advertisements.[23]


There was also a great deal of news about the war to report with information and speculation about the German and American peace notes of December 1916 and the statements of war aims from Britain and France issued in the new year. The German announcement of unrestricted U-boat warfare and the subsequent movement towards the declaration of war by the United States in early April were much discussed as was the first Russian revolution, the abdication of the Czar and the formation of the Kerensky government in March.[24] What was missing from the news reports was information about the Canadians who, from December 1916 to April 1917, were holding a quiet sector of the front near Arras and preparing to play a major role in the spring offensive by an attack on the formidable defences of Vimy Ridge. Large scale raids and normal trench warfare losses continued to produce casualty lists and those with Montreal next of kin were regularly highlighted but the numbers were relatively small.[25] These personal tragedies did not lend themselves to public demonstrations of collective mourning. One issue that did gain attention was the threat to the survival of the city’s frontline battalions. One or more of them, the Star reported, would “be swallowed up… if enough recruits do not go forward from this district”.[26] The Gazette highlighted the problem noting that as of 30 March 1917 Quebec province had enlisted 44,427 men compared to more than 120,000 for Ontario. Military District 4, encompassing Montreal, contributed 36,282 to the Quebec total but this figure faded in comparison to Toronto. Overall one in three men in the age group had volunteered in Ontario compared to one in seven in Quebec.[27] The figure for Toronto was one in two.[28]

Montreal Star, April 12 1917.

News about the battle for Vimy Ridge began to appear on 10 April and for the next week stories about the Canadian victory appeared daily in all newspapers. Most were credited to Stewart Lyon, a former Managing Editor of the Toronto Globe, who served as the first Canadian Press war correspondent. The Canadian success at Vimy was linked to stories of British advances beyond Arras and to the Nivelle Offensive began by the French Army on 16 April. Vimy was thought to be a remarkable Canadian achievement but the battle did not become the dominant memory of the war until the memorial was unveiled in 1936. The Canadians were back in the news in late April and early May as 1st Division won plaudits for the capture of two French villages, Arleux and Fresnoy[29] but it was soon evident that both the British and French offensives were failing with heavy losses.

Advertisement for the French Canadian Brigade.

Canadian casualty lists appeared throughout April demonstrating the scale of losses to the CEF and to Montreal, but this did not lead to talk of conscription. Instead newspapers focused attention on a new recruiting campaign launched by Pierre-Edouard Blondin, the Postmaster-General who left his cabinet post to raise the 258th (French Canadian) Battalion. Blondin declared that it was time for him to go to the front “with those of my age and race who to honour the Province of Quebec and offering their blood for the defence of rights and ideals…”[30] Together with Major-General F. L. Lessard, the highest ranking officer of French Canadian heritage, Blondin began a tour of the province seeking recruits. Battalion headquarters was located at the Peel Street barracks in Montreal and a cadre of officers and NCOs began to take shape. All of the city’s daily newspapers except Le Devoir actively supported the battalion which received financial support from Montreal and Toronto businessmen. Blondin suggested that his battalion would become part of a French Canadian brigade, soon to be established, though it is unlikely that he or anyone else believed this to be likely.[31] Blondin was able to announce that the sons of two prominent Liberals, Rodolphe Lemieux and Charles Murphy, were joining the 258th as lieutenants adding a bipartisan note to recruiting. Leading Liberals joined Conservatives on the platform for a recruiting meeting in Montreal’s Monument National but constant interruptions from young men in the galleries created what Le Canada described as “disgraceful and regrettable scenes.”[32] The well-publicized visit of General Joffre “the Hero of the Marne” to Montreal was linked to the Blondin-Lessard campaign as was the National Unity Convention, an outgrowth of the Bonne Entente movement. All of these efforts collapsed on 18 May when Borden rose in the House of Commons to announce his plan to introduce “selective compulsory military service” and conscript 50,000 to 100,000 men.[33]

The Montreal Star announcing the visit of French Marshal Joffre.

While on England Borden has repeatedly sought information on the numbers of new recruits, the results of the national registration and the progress of attempts to release men already in the army for overseas service through the formation of a Home Defence Force.[34] Enlistments in January had totaled 6,690, the best record since the summer of 1916. More than 10,000 more men enlisted before the Vimy battle began, raising the strength of the CEF to 304,585.[35] Nevertheless, the news that National Registration reported close to 300,000 men of military age not engaged in essential occupations was enough for Borden. Upon his return to Canada he told his cabinet and then the House of Commons that he was “responding to a call from the wounded, the men in the trenches and those who have fallen to obtain the necessary reinforcements” necessary to maintain the Canadian army in the field as one of the finest fighting units in the British Empire.[36]

The conscription decision had been subject of rumors since early May but it still came as a surprize. Reaction in Montreal split along predictable lines. The English-language press endorsed the government’s decision as did the reliably Conservative La Patrie. No one doubted the reaction of the nationalists but both Bourassa and Omer Heroux avoided comment until 28 May when Heroux’s first page editorial explained that Bourassa was examining the issue with his customary care. The next day Bourassa published the first of nine articles on conscription offering historical background, reminders of past warnings and vigorous condemnation of British imperialism both at home and abroad.[37]

Prime Minister Borden visiting wounded soldiers in hospital.

Laurier’s response to Borden’s announcement surprised his friends and foes. His statement, “a good deal of consideration must be given before traditional policy (voluntary service) is set aside”[38] was followed by weeks of discussions with Borden over the prospect of a coalition government. Laurier appears to have strung out the negotiations buying time to gain support for his own policy – a referendum, and as Le Canada reported, “giving public opinion time to be heard”.[39] Le Canada, the semi-official newspaper of Montreal Liberals, did not wait for Laurier to condemn conscription. The editor challenged the Prime Minister’s belief that there was a reinforcement crisis, declaring that since four divisions required just 60,000 men and the strength of the army was now 300,000, enough men were available to sustain the Canadian Corps.[40]

With both Laurier and Bourassa maintaining silence and Archbishop Bruchesi protesting in private letters to Borden, the leadership vacuum was filled by younger men vying for influence in the streets of the city. The most ambitious of these new leaders, Tancrède Marsil was a fringe journalist currently publishing La Liberté a nationalist weekly. He was the principal speaker at large rallies held at Parc Lafontaine and elsewhere in the city claiming that “he was at the head of a movement to prevent the enforcement of conscription”.[41] A number of Liberals, including members of the provincial legislature and Mayor Méderic Martin also participated, but their message was to remain peaceful and wait for Laurier. Violence erupted on the night of 24 – 25 May with surging crowds of young men breaking windows, and clashing with the police.

University of Ottawa historian Serge Marc Durflinger has recently examined the “protests and public disturbances” that rocked Montreal throughout the summer of 1917. They were, he writes, “characterized by almost nightly gatherings… acts of violence against individuals and property, sporadic displays of gunfire (normally using blank ammunition) … and increasingly inflammatory, seditious and even rebellious public rhetoric”.[42] Durflinger suggests that after the initial flurry of protest the situation calmed down until the actual introduction of the Military Service Act on 11 June. Tancrède Marsil was soon back in action claiming the leadership of a new organization, Les Fils de la liberté,[43] but there now was many would be leaders to rouse demonstrators.


Civil disobedience with mass meetings and minor violence continued through the summer but after Laurier committed the Liberal Party to opposing conscription most French-speaking Montrealers rallied behind the Liberal leaders. Both Premier Gouin and Rodolphe Lemieux added their voices as did a number of English-speaking Quebec Liberals including Sydney Fisher, the former Minister of Agriculture and W. G. Mitchell the Provincial Treasurer.[44] This did not mean an end to unrest in the streets but as the Montreal Witness warned the significance of these activities was subject to interpretation. Under the heading “News is not always what it seems” a reporter suggested that reports of a crowd of 3000 at a recent rally were somewhat exaggerated. Less than a thousand were present, he declared and forty percent of those appeared to be curious onlookers.[45] Certainly the Gazette and the Star never missed an opportunity to offer detailed reports on the rhetoric used by the young orators while La Presse and Le Canada played down or ignored the demonstrations.

It was difficult to ignore the explosion that rocked suburban Cartierville in the early hours of 9 August. A large bundle of dynamite, stolen from an east-end quarry, blew the corner off the summer residence of Lord Atholstan, who as Sir Hugh Graham had used his newspapers, the Star, Standard and Herald to prompt win-the-war policies including conscription. Both he and his family escaped injury. La Presse carried the story on its front page as did Atholstan’s own newspapers. The pursuit, capture and subsequent trial of the “dynamitards” was too good a story for any newspaper to resist and coverage was extensive.[46]

Montreal Anti-Conscription Demonstrations, 1917.

Protests continued throughout August culminating in a “Lafontaine Park Declaration” “issued on the day before the Military Service Act became law. The signatories claimed that they would use violence to prevent the implementation of conscription and declared that, “If the Conscription Bill is enforced, Borden and his men will have to suffer the death penalty”.[47] The next day began with the accidental shooting of an eighteen year old by one of his friends who was learning to use a revolver and concluded with a riotous march broken up by police with truncheons and revolvers.[48] Serge Durflinger suggests that by September “the spark seemed to have gone out of the demonstrations as arrests, more aggressive police tactics and perhaps the fact conscription had been made into law dampened the ardour of the anti-conscriptionists.”[49]

A recent PHD thesis written by Donald Charles Eberele[50] allows us to consider the views of military officials and especially those of the Directorate of Military Intelligence on the situation in Montreal in the summer of 1917.

To read this section of his thesis click here

            Despite riots, rumours, and organized violence the Dominion Government and the Montreal police acted with restraint throughout the summer of 1917 contributing to the decline in street protest. Of equal importance in restoring peace was the growing consensus of the need to support Laurier as the unchallenged leader of French-speaking Quebec. Bourassa and his nationalist allies were among those who swallowed their pride, put aside their egos and accepted Laurier’s dominant role.[51] Laurier avoided a break with Liberals in Ontario and the west by conceding the legitimacy of their pro-conscription views while insisting that official Liberal candidates accept the policy of a referendum.[52]

Laurier was also able to win over a significant number of Montreal’s Irish Catholics who had previously supported their cabinet representative, C. J. Doherty, the Minister of Justice. When Dr. J. J. Guerin, the last English-speaking Mayor of Montreal (1910-1912) and a former provincial Liberal minister, organised a meeting at St. Ann’s Hall in the heart of Griffintown, a large crowd turned out to applaud an anti-conscriptionist message and to endorse Laurier.[53] The audience was said to be composed of young men who were likely influenced by the publication of an interview given by Henry Trihey, the former commander of the Irish Canadian Rangers, to the New York Evening Post, which was reprinted in most Montreal newspapers.

Trihey began with an account of the recruitment and break up of his battalion and then offered a statement of additional reasons for Irish Canadian discontent.

            The Irish Canadian realizes what he formerly heard but did not appreciate that Ireland is under martial law and is occupied by an English army. He reads in the press that English soldiers are in Dublin and Cork with rifle and machine guns. The Irish Canadian believes Ireland to be a small national worthy of freedom. He wonders if the conscription of 100,000 Canadians would still be necessary if the 150,000 men comprising the English army in Ireland were sent to fight in France. He wonders where Canadians may best maintain the war purpose vital to Canada – small nations must be free. If conscription becomes law of course Irish Canadians will loyally observe the law for they are Canadians.[54]

The interview created a tempest in Ottawa requiring Doherty to intervene on behalf of his friend but in Montreal Trihey’s words gave expression to the feelings of many Irish Catholics.

The vote on the second reading of the Military Service Act, 5 July 1917 was a shock to Montreal anti-conscriptionists. Frank Oliver the MP for Edmonton and Charles Murphy, the spokesman for Irish Catholics in Eastern Ontario, were the only prominent English-speaking members to oppose the bill. Twenty-six out of thirty-eight English Canadian Liberals voted with the government. Laurier was not ready to concede defeat. When Ontario Liberals met on 20 July the pro-conscription, pro-coalition forces were overwhelmed by those who supported Laurier and a referendum. A similar grass roots movement turned a Western Liberal convention intended to promote both conscription and coalition into “a bomb that went off in the hands of its makers” as a large majority endorsed Laurier.[55]

Montrealers played no significant role in the protracted negotiations to establish a Union Government. Borden was determined to bring conscriptionist Liberals into a coalition before calling an election and he did not hesitate to use the Conservative majority to pass two laws designed to persuade reluctant Liberals to join a Union Government. The Military Voters Bill allowed all those serving in the Canadian military to vote in whatever constituency they indicated, for either the government or the opposition. The Parliamentary debate considered the possibility of votes being directed strategically but no one anticipated the level of dishonesty later displayed by Unionist election organizers.[56] The second measure, The Wartime Elections Bill, was introduced on 6 September. The wives, mothers, widows, sisters and daughters of Canadians serving in the military or who had served overseas were to have the vote while all persons of any enemy alien birth, or who spoke an enemy alien tongue, naturalized after 1902 were disenfranchised unless they had sons, grandsons or brothers serving overseas.

Arthur Meighen, during his years as a cabinet minister.

Arthur Meighen, the Solicitor General defended the legislation declaring that “the franchise depended on war service” and he relentlessly advanced the case for rigging the election. He told the House:

If it is true, and apparently it is true, if hon. gentleman opposite are right – that the majority of women of this country whose near relatives are overseas, those who spend their days in anxiety and their nights in tears will support us and those who of our population are likely to favour the enemy, will reject us then in the name of the government which has been striving for three years to fight that enemy, I accept the compliment.[57]

The War Times Election Act became law after the government invoked closure to break the opposition of a temporarily united Liberal Party. Once it passed Liberal unity gave way as conscriptionist Liberals re-calculated their chances of electoral success under the new franchise. Within days they were competing with each other for positions within a Union Government where they would be “outnumbered and unranked”[58], but electable. The Laurier Liberals now faced near-certain defeat and began to focus their attention on what could be saved. Liberal candidates, still loyal to the leader were told that they could run on a pro-conscription platform so long as they did not endorse Borden or the Union Government.[59]

Ritchie England

Women’s groups were divided in their response to the government’s transparent attempt to exploit family relationships especially in Montreal. Historian Tarah Brookfield has examined the complexities of the situation in a multi-cultural city describing the very different responses of the Féderation National St. Jean-Baptiste and the Montreal Council of Women. The Féderation opposed both conscription and the partial franchise while the Council ended up accepting both measures, despite opposition from its President, Dr. Ritchie-England, who endorsed Laurier and actively campaigned for the Liberals. Brookfield describes the controversy stirred by Ritchie-England’s role in the election nothing the critical words of the letters to the editor published in the Star and Gazette as well as the resolution of the Montreal Women’s Club calling for her resignation. The controversy did not end with the election but an attempt to replace Ritchie-England as President of the Council failed to secure a majority.[60]

“Covered Themselves With Glory”

Overseas the British Expeditionary Force had embarked on a new offensive in the Ypres sector, which, General Haig declared, was designed to clear the Belgian coast. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson and the British cabinet accepted Haig’s plan on the understanding that the purpose of the offensive operations was now

no longer a question of breaking through the enemy’s front and aiming at distant objectives. It is now a question of wearing down and exhausting the enemy resistance… relentlessly attacking with limited objectives and making the fullest use of our artillery. By this means we hope to gain our ends with the minimum possible loss.

No one addressed the contradiction between the Robertson’s caution and Haig’s ambitious distant objective – the Belgian coast.

The offensive, officially known as Third Ypres, but forever associated with the village of Passchendaele, was preceded by a successful attack on Messines Ridge which overlooked Ypres and the British lines. Haig interpreted the victory as a sign of German exhaustion arguing that Germany was within six months of total collapse and on 31 July the main offensive began. German resistance was formidable with no signs of collapse, so Haig ordered First British Army to mount diversionary operations in the Arras area to draw German reserves away from Ypres.

As the most powerful corps in First Army the Canadians were ordered to attack the coal-mining town of Lens. Arthur Currie, who had succeeded Julian Byng to become the first Canadian to command the Corps, planned to secure Hill 70, the high ground north of Lens, using artillery to destroy German attempts to regain the hill. Despite heavy rain which postponed the attack, rehearsals were carried out as in the preparations for Vimy.

French children march alongside Montreal’s 14th Battalion as they return from the Battle of Hill 70

The first phase of the August battle, capturing and defending Hill 70, was a considerable success as the artillery “smashed the ground and the German counter-attacks to pulp.”[61] With both 1st and 2nd Division holding Hill 70 the German Army employed a new and terrible weapon introduced at Ypres in July. On 17 August their gunners fired fifteen to twenty thousand shells filled with an oily liquid that turned to a mustard-smelling gas on impact. The gas could burn exposed skin and do serious damage to the eyes and throat. Fortunately, the medics were prepared for mustard gas and if men could reach a field ambulance, they were stripped of clothing, bathed in soda solution and carefully treated for swollen eyes which were washed and covered with gauze. John Singer Sargent’s famous painting depicts men who had been treated and were moving to the rear.[62]


Historians Douglas Delaney and Serge Durflinger have edited a book of essays on the capture of Hill 70 inspired by the campaign to create awareness of what is described as an important but forgotten battle. Contributors to the book recognize the very different character of the two phases of the operation, the seizure of Hill 70, in military terms a brilliant victory and the subsequent attempt to capture Lens, a hastily improvised attack that produced some of the hardest fighting the Corps had ever known. Philip Gibbs, the British war correspondent, described Lens as “a charnel house” with “roofless buildings and gapping walls packed with German soldiers fighting from tunnels amid the rubble.”[63] The German Sixth Army suffered heavy casualties in the defence of Lens where “Entire city blocks were destroyed” and “Shell hole joined shell hole” but they held against the “best English attack troops, the Canadians…”[64] Recently a new and impressive memorial has been inaugurated near the start line for Hill 70 in Loos. Memorial plaques have also been placed within Lens commemorating a very different experience of war which historian Geoff Jackson has described as, a “bloody setback” which “no amount of rationalization can obscure.”[65]

The outskirts of Lens, 1917.

All of Montreal’s seven remaining infantry battalions (the 60th and 73rd were disbanded before August) were involved in the fighting at Hill 70 or Lens sharing in the very heavy casualties experienced by the Corps. More than 2000 men were killed in action during August with 6,677 wounded or missing. Montreal newspapers carried the usual heroic stories from Canadian press as well as Gibbs, but also continued to publish the daily list of casualties with a note on the number from Montreal. On 27 August “the heaviest list since Vimy” 41 of the 788 losses had next of kin in Montreal, the next day the toll was 35 out of 661 and then on the 29th “the heaviest list on any one day” 1028 men, 60 from Montreal were recorded. The Gazette was careful to separate the number of those killed in action from the wounded and as the losses continued to mount it notes that on 30 August, when 55 Montrealers were on a list of 766 men, only one had died and overall fatalities were just one percent.[66]

Despite the scale of losses to the Canadian Corps there were enough reinforcements immediately available in England without taking men from the 5th Division.[67] Neither the newspapers nor the Borden government advertised this as their eyes remained fixed on the longer term. The war, Borden believed, would last into 1918 and perhaps beyond so conscripts would surely be required. Borden was right the Canadian Corps was soon to be drawn into Haig’s catastrophic offensive in Flanders. A series of operations intended to break through the German defences and then free the Belgian coast had turned into an attritional battle for the same low ridges east of Ypres that had cost so many lives in 1915 and 1916. October was the third worst month of the war for the British army with losses reaching towards the numbers recorded at the Somme in July 1916.[68] If this was not bad enough the news from the eastern front was bleak and then on 27 October the join German-Austrian offensive at Caporetto crushed the Italian army creating a crisis situation which forced the British and French to respond.

Haig had opposed sending guns or troops to Italy before Caporetto and he continued to argue that further action in Flanders would better assist the Italians. He ordered the Canadian Corps to join the offensive replacing the exhausted Australians for another attempt to seize the higher ground at Passchendaele. Arthur Currie, ordered to submit plans for the capture of the village, developed a step by step approach based on a series of 500 yard “bites” with pauses for consolidation and replenishment of the artillery. A great deal of engineering work was required building roads and one way duck-board routes, raised above the mud and water-filled shell holes.

The first Canadian advance began on 26 October with battalions of the 3rd and 4th Divisions forming up in countryside that had been “reduced to an unrecognizable waste of ridge and hollow… half the area in front of Passchendaele was covered with water or deep mud”.[69] General Currie on first seeing the ground noted in his diary that “The battlefield looks bad. No salvaging has been done and very few of the dead are buried…”[70] Despite the conditions the assault battalions of both divisions reached their objectives. The second phase began on 30 October with 1st Division joining in. Finally on 6 November the ruins of Passchendaele were in Canadian hands. Reaching the ruins of the village allowed Haig to claim victory and end the offensive without revealing that most of the ridge was still in German hands, leaving the Canadians in a “very bad salient” under “the most severe and violent” artillery fire ever experienced.[71]

Canadian pioneers clearing the Passchendaele battlefield, November 1917.

The British offensive in Flanders was a major story in Montreal newspapers in the summer but by October the endless struggle over the same few miles of mud was of less and less interest. The arrival of the Canadians in the bloody salient with place names familiar from 1915 and 1916 revived journalistic interest but the new Canadian Press war correspondent, Walter Willison, son of the proprietor of the Toronto News, offered little beyond the conventional platitudes. After the first Canadian advance readers were told the Canadians had “covered themselves with glory” but there was no analysis of the task before them.[72]

Casualty lists were slow in coming, perhaps because of the number of men missing, lost in the mud but on 6 November newspapers reported the “Heaviest List of Casualties since Lens” and the public was warned that the list of 357 men, eight from Montreal, was the first of “extensive lists to come”. Censors prevented information about the use of mustard gas from reaching the public but on 9 November the 643 casualties included “a large number who had been wounded or gassed”. By late November the local newspapers had identified more than 400 men from Montreal who had been killed, wounded or gassed.[73]

The only hint of dissatisfaction with British strategy and generalship at Passchendaele came when Canadian newspapers reported on the controversy in England that followed upon the British Prime Minister’s Paris speech on 11 November. Lloyd George, in arguing for the creation of an Allied Supreme War Council to direct strategy had indirectly criticized the British army. The Conservative press in England, sensitive to any slighting of its heroes demanded that Lloyd George “exonerate Haig and Robertson” from all such criticism.[74] Lloyd George agreed to devote a day in parliament to a debate over the direction of the war and overcame his critics with a memorable speech defending the new Supreme War Council. As usual no one consulted Canada and no Canadian editors or politicians offered opinions on the dispute.

The Military Service Act, which established “classes” of men who could be called up by Order-in-Council, was implemented on 13 October 1917 when men Class I, single or widowers without children ages 20-34 were ordered to appear before medical boards and Exemption Tribunals. It soon became apparent that those who supported conscription did not intend to allow themselves or their children to become soldiers. Nationally 93.7 percent sought exemption with the Quebec total at 98 percent.[75] Borden and his colleagues began to panic. Would men from the English-speaking provinces who were determined to avoid military service vote for the Unionists in the December general election? Action was required and as historian John English has written:

Borden adopted what Richard Hofstader in another context has called the ‘paranoid style’; the opposition is conceived of as an evil conspiracy acting to undermine the nation hence unusual measures are acceptable. The interests of the nation were ever more closely linked with the interests of Unionism. Thus tribunals [review tribunals] were instructed to be exacting when applying the guidelines for exemption in Quebec where Unionists had little chance, and to be flexible in the Unionist stronghold of Ontario.[76]

A more flexible exemption policy in Ontario failed to stem anxiety in rural areas and the Minister of Militia, General S. W. Mewburn, “tried to quell the storm of protest…” by promising to exempt farmers’ sons, a commitment which was then embodied by an Order-in-Council two weeks before the election. Taking no chances Borden authorized an aggressive Unionist campaign portraying Bourassa and Laurier linked together as “traitors”.[77] There was little point in extending such a campaign to Quebec where few ridings were in play but both the Gazette and Star echoed this theme. Unionists hoped to re-elect H. B. Ames and C. J. Doherty and win a seat for a Liberal-Unionist, the Minister of Marine C. C. Ballantyne in the three ridings with reliable Anglo-Celtic majorities. Albert Séveigny and Pierre-Edouard Blondin had abandoned hope of winning their rural Quebec constituencies so they also sought election in Westmount-St Henri and Outremont-Laurier respectively. Few observers gave them much chance.

Anti-Liberal 1917 Election Advertisements

French-speaking Montrealers were uniting behind Laurier and the Liberal Party accepting his decision to support the war effort while insisting on a referendum before further proceeding with conscription. When Laurier announced a wide-ranging platform that addressed railway nationalization and other issues his words on the war and conscription were closely monitored. His declaration that he would appoint “the ablest men in the country to his cabinet” so that “Canada could find the men, money and resources to ensure the fullest support for our heroic soldiers at the front”[78] was coupled with a promise to accept the results of a referendum on conscription whatever the outcome. Bourassa’s two part commentary on “Le programme de M. Laurier” tried to identify the nationalists with parts of the manifesto but noted that Laurier still “glorified the war” and failed to understand the dangers of more voluntary enlistment.[79]

Patrice Dutil and David Mackenzie, who have published the most detailed account of the 1917 election, note that the Liberals were anxious to distance themselves from Bourassa because of the “negative effect on Laurier’s campaign in English Canada”. The Toronto Globe, once the party’s stalwart supporter in Ontario, speculated that Bourassa would be named to the cabinet if Laurier won and did not hesitate to use the slogan “A vote for Laurier is a vote for Bourassa is a vote for the Kaiser”. Laurier responded with an attempt to persuade Le Devoir to attack the Liberals more vigorously but both Bourassa and Heroux continued to offer qualified support to Liberal candidates.[80]

Rodolphe Lemieux, Laurier’s faithful lieutenant who was running in Maisonneuve as well as his home riding of Gaspé, orchestrated the campaign in Montreal marginalizing both the Bourassa nationalists and the young activist groups. Lemieux, with a son serving in the 258th Battalion, made sure the Liberals avoided the bitter anti-British, anti-war discourse of Bourassa and Lavergne. Premier Gouin was also determined to distinguish the Liberals from the nationalists, emphasizing Quebec’s support for the Victory Loans, the Red Cross and the Patriotic Fund.[81] Newspaper coverage of the election followed predictable lines, the Star, Gazette, Herald, and Standard supported the Unionist “Win the War” cause while La Presse, Le Canada and in a sense Le Devoir supported Laurier. La Patrie largely ignored the election though it carried ads for Blondin and Séveigny. Le Canada was transformed into the Liberal party’s campaign newspaper with added columns in English since all the English-language newspapers backed Borden and the Unionist candidates.

Reviewing the daily and weekly newspapers one is struck that, with the exception of Le Canada, relatively little space was devoted to the election presumably because the results were a forgone conclusion. The war in France, Italy and the Middle East dominated the front pages with particular attention to Palestine and the British entry into Jerusalem. Inside the newspapers readers could enjoy the local news, several pages of sports stories and extensive entertainment coverage. The Halifax Explosion, 6 December 1917, was on the front page for several days with follow-up stories as the scale of a disaster which took 2000 lives became apparent.[82]

The “Lansdowne Letter”, published in the London Daily Telegraph on 29 November, made public the views that Lord Lansdowne had presented to the British Cabinet in 1916. He now urged the British and French to co-ordinate their war aims with the policies of the American President and explore ways of ending the war through negotiation.[83] Unionist supporters in Canada, like their counterparts in Britain, were outraged by Lansdowne’s views but the French-language dailies provided supportive coverage. Henri Bourassa insisted that the letter was a paraphrase in political language of the most recent Papal peace proposal.[84] The most thoughtful account was written by Eve Circé-Coté in Le Pays. Writing under several pen names Circé-Coté was a regular contributor to Le Pays and after 1916 Le Monde Ouvrier, the labour weekly established by Gustav Francq. As a progressive-liberal and Francophile, Circé-Coté supported Canada’s participation in a just war fought in defence of Belgium and France. As the war continued her views gradually changed. By 1917 Circé-Coté, writing as “Fantasio”, was questioning the costs of the war and joining the compatriots in opposition to conscription. For her Lansdowne’s letter held out hope of ending a war which seemed to threaten humanity.[85]

Election Day

There were few surprises on election day. A Unionist majority based on an almost solid Ontario and equally one-sided result in the west gave Borden and his colleagues a mandate without needing the soldiers’ vote. In Montreal Ames, Doherty and Ballantyne won their ridings with all other urban and rural seats in Quebec going to Laurier. Doherty’s victory in St. Anns raised questions about Irish Canadians but since they were small minority of voters in a constituency that included the British immigrant community in Verdun historians dispute the meaning of the result. Le Canada insisted that the Irish polling stations gave a majority to the Liberals and Matthew Barlow in his study of Griffintown “The House of the Irish” agrees.[86] Perhaps so but without a more rigorous study based on polling stations and the street directories we will never know.

A similar problem exists in analyzing the Jewish vote in Montreal which was split between several ridings. Did the large majority of voters in Geroges-Etienne Cartier vote for S.W. Jacobs K.C. because he was a Laurier Liberal opposed to conscription or because he was Sam Jacobs the lawyer who had won the Plamondon Libel case in 1914? The pages of the Canadian Jewish Chronicle, published weekly in Montreal, allow us to follow the events in the community. From the earliest days of the war through the agonies of the following years the newspaper endorsed Britain’s war policy and Canada’s involvement. Women’s organizations from the Council of Jewish Women to the Young Womens Hebrew Association (YWHA) raised money for the Patriotic Fund and created committees to encourage knitting and sewing circles.[87] The Chronicle echoed the reservations all Jews shared about Britain’s alliance with Czarist Russia providing regular news about the fate of Jews in Eastern Europe and helping to raise funds for the relief of Jewish “war sufferers”. One debate that divided the community was whether to encourage enlistment in existing battalions or to establish Jewish units. The Chronicle favoured integration but when, in 1916, a “Jewish Reinforcing Company” was established there was broad support. Captain Isidore Freedman, an officer in the 6th Duke of Connaughts Hussars was asked to recruit “five officers and 250 men from among Montreal Jews who were British subjects”.[88] Since the vast majority of the city’s Jews were not yet British subjects and many of those who were had already volunteered, Freedman faced a difficult task. When the draft sailed for England in March 1917, the company numbered three officers and eighty-three other ranks.[89]

Recruiting for the Reinforcing Company may also have been influenced by competition from the Jewish Legion, an international military unit which would serve with the British Army in the campaign to free Palestine from Turkish Rule. One of the four Royal Fusiliers battalions that served in the Middle East, the 39th was made up of North American volunteers including as many as 350 – 400 Canadian Jews.[90]

During 1917 the focus of the Chronicle shifted to the prospects of fulfilling the Zionist dream after the British liberation of Palestine. Well before the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 Montreal’s Jews were rallying to the Zionist cause, promoted by Clarence de Sola and other community leaders.[91] When the British Foreign Secretary visited Ottawa in the spring of 1917 his invitation to de Sola to discuss the future of Palestine was major news.[92] Preparations for the 1917 Canadian Zionist Federation convention included attempts to broaden representation and encourage as many as possible to travel to Winnipeg and participate in what was seen as a significant moment in the struggle to establish a Jewish homeland.[93]

The Chronicle generally ignored the issues raised by the introduction of conscription. A brief editorial argued that terms like conscription and compulsion were too negative and disruptive suggesting the use of the American term “draft”. A second comment, printed after the Military Service Act became law declared that “Canada will now be able to fulfill its promise to the mother country of securing half a million men” and noted that “we will be called upon to demonstrate our loyalty in still greater numbers – we are ready.”[94] Apart from a mild rebuke to French Canadian street activists who had chanted “conscript the foreigners” the Chronicle ignored the election certain that Sam Jacobs would be victorious. A portrait of Jacobs with the title “First Canadian Jew elected to the Federal Parliament” was the only election news published by the Chronicle.[95]

Election day in Montreal had been remarkably calm and the police, out in force, reported no significant incidents at the polls or in muted victory celebrations. Laurier, at age seventy-six, was still on a train returning from an exhausting ten day tour of western Canada where large crowds had gathered to hear him speak. As the results came in and the extent of the Unionist victory became clear Laurier remarked, without rancour, that westerners had “cheered for me but they didn’t vote for me”.[96] Neither had the once reliable back concessions in south western Ontario. The large Unionist majority demonstrated the determination of British, Protestant Canada to support a win the war government that would impose its will upon all dissenters.[97]

The Unionist majority of 45 in a parliament of 235 members meant that the much disputed soldier’s vote would have a marginal effect on the results. In the end fourteen additional ridings including Frank Oliver’s seat. Edmonton West, were added to the Unionist total. Desmond Morton, who had provided the most balanced account of the voting overseas, agrees that “massive organized vote switching” did occur but adds that most of these ballots were not counted. He concludes that the soldiers “voted with grim cynicism and without much thought for Canadian unity or French Canadian disaffection”.[98]


[1] Robert Craig Brown, Robert Laird Borden: A Biography Vol 2 1914 – 1937 (Toronto 1980) p. 61 – 63

[2] Richard Holt, Filling the Ranks, Manpower in the Canadian Expeditionary 1914 – 1918 (Montreal 2017) p. 177 – 183. From September 1916 to the end of the war a monthly average of 6051 infantry other ranks were required to maintain the four divisions at full strength. P. 179.

[3] Andrew MacPhail, Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914-1918: The Medical Services (Ottawa 1925) p. 253.

[4] Nicholson, CEF, p. 224

[5] William Stewart, “Frustrated Belligerence: The Unhappy History of the 5th Canadian Division in the First World War” CMH Vol 22 No 2, Spring 2013.

[6] The quotations are from Brown, Borden Vol 2, p. 67 – 68.

[7] Desmond Morton, A Peculiar Kind of Politics: Canada’s Overseas Ministry in the First World War (Toronto 1982) Chapter 6 “Gaining Control”

[8] Henry Borden (ed.) Robert Laird Borden: His Memoirs Vol 2 (New York 1938) p. 613. Montreal Gazette 7 December 1916, p. 3.

[9] Brown, Borden Vol 2, p. 64

[10] For an interesting study of the way the war was presented to the public in Quebec and Ontario see Mourad Djebabla, “La Confrontation des civils Québecois et Ontarien a la Premìere Guerre Mondiale 1914-1918: Le Répresentations de la guerre au Québec et en Ontario” PhD Thesis UQAM 2008 

[11] René Castonguay, Chase-Casgrain, Thomas, DCB Online

[12] Réal Belanger, L’impossible défi, Albert Sévigny et les Conservatives fédéraux 1902-1918 (Quebec 1983) p. 232-251

[13] See especially the cartoons in the Le Nationaliste 14 January 1917, 21 January 1917.

[14] David Lloyd George, War Memoirs Vol IV (London 1934) p. 1731

[15] Brown, Borden Vol 2, p. 72

[16] Montreal Star 3 February 1917, p. 12

[17] Gerald Tulchinskey, Canada’s Jews A Peoples Journey (Toronto 2008) p. 154. See also Mercedes Stedman, Angels of the Workplace: Women and the Construction of Gender Relations in the Canadian Clothing Industry 1890 – 1940 (Toronto 1997) p. 95 – 96

[18] Tulchinsky, p. 155

[19] Tulchinsky, p. 159

[20] Geoff Ewen, The International Unions and the Worker’s Revolt in Quebec 1914-1925 PhD Thesis, York University 1998, p. 83. See also “Joe Schlossberg and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America” Museum of Jewish Montreal 

[21] “100th Anniversary of city’s national hockey team” North Bay Nugget 28 November 2016 tells the story of the 228th Battalion hockey team. See also “Men of the North”.

[22] Based on the sports pages of the Montreal Gazette, La Patrie, and the Ottawa Citizen. The Seattle Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup.

[23] See especially the Montreal Standard 27 January 1917 and La Patrie “L’automobile un triomphe” 20 January 1917

[24] See the appropriate entries in the International Encyclopedia of the First World War and

[25] Nicholson, CEF, p. 233-244. See also the casualty lists of the period Montreal Gazette, p. 3 January – April 1917, various days.

[26] Montreal Star, 9 April 1917, p. 19

[27] Montreal Gazette 26 April 1917 p. 10

[28] Ian Miller, Our Glory and Our Grief, Torontonians and the Great War (Toronto 2002) p. 196

[29] Canadian Press articles on the Canadian victories at Arleux and Fresnoy were published 30 April 1917 and 4 May 1917 usually on the front page. See also Michael Bechthold, “In the Shadow of Vimy Ridge: The Canadian Corps in April and May 1917”, Geoffrey Hayes et al Vimy: A Canadian Reassessment (Waterloo 2007)

[30] Cited in Barrett, “Patriots, Crooks and Safety Firsters” Lt-Col. Blondin

[31] Montreal Star, 7 May 1917, p. 12.

[32] Le Canada, 7 May 1917 p. 1

[33] Brown, Borden Vol 2, p. 83. All of the city newspapers carried the text of Borden’s statement on conscription.

[34] Brown, Borden Vol 2, p. 83

[35]Nicholson, CEF, p. 220

[36] Brown, Borden Vol 2, p. 84. The text of Borden’s speech was published in the major daily newspapers 19 May 1917. For more detailed discussions of the background to the conscription decision see J. L. Granatstein with J. M. Hitsman, Broken Promises A History of Conscription in Canada (Toronto 1977) and the articles in Canadian Military History Vol 24 No 1 2015 by Chris Sharpe “Enlistment in the Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1918”, Robert Craig Brown and Donald Loveridge “Unrequited Faith: Recruiting the CEF 1914-1918” and Desmond Morton “Did the French Canadians Cause the Conscription Crisis of 1917?”. 

[37] Le Devoir, 28 – 29 May 1917 p. 1 See also Pierre Anctil, “Do What You Must” Selected Editorials from Le Devoir under Henri Bourassa (Toronto 2016) p. 118 – 119

[38] Canada, Debates of the House of Commons 12th Parliament, 1917, p. 1542

[39] Le Canada 30 May 1917 p. 4.

[40] Le Canada, 31 May 1917 p. 4.

[41] Serge Marc Durflinger, “Vimy’s Consequences: The Montreal Anti-Conscription Disturbances May to September 1917” in Douglas E. Delaney and Nikolas Gardner (eds.) Turning Point 1917 The British Empire At War, p. 161

[42] Ibid, p. 169

[43] Ibid, p. 172

[44] Le Canada 26 June 1917 p. 8

[45] Montreal Witness 5 June 1917 p. 1

[46] The story is most easily followed in the Star and Standard. See also the coverage in Le Devoir using the term “dynamitards”.

[47] Durflinger, “Vimy’s Consequences”, p. 177

[48] La Patrie, 29 August 1917 p. 1

[49] Durflinger, p 181.

[50] Eberle, Donald Charles, “Conscription Policy, Citizenship and Religious Conscientious Objectors in the United States and Canada during World War One” (unpublished Bowling Green State University PhD Thesis, 2013)

[51] Montreal Star 28 June 1917 p. 2. In the course of a three hour speech at the Monument National Bourassa announced his support for Laurier’s referendum policy which he insisted was a nationalist proposal.

[52] John English, The Decline of Politics (Toronto 1977) p. 134 – 135

[53] Montreal Star 4 July 1917 p. 3. A more complete account of the meeting was reported in Le Canada 4 July 1917 p. 8

[54] Versions of the interview differ slightly. This quotation is from the Montreal Star 3 July 1917 p. 11.

[55] English, Decline of Politics, p. 142 – 145.

[56] The debate on second reading began 22 August 1917. For press coverage see for example Le Canada 23 August 1917 p. 1 and 24 August 1917 p. 4.

[57] Roger Graham, Arthur Meighen (Toronto 1960) Vol I p. 169

[58] “Overall there were twelve Tory ministers, nine Liberals and one “Labour” (Gideon Robertson). Most of the senior portfolios… continued to be held by Tories. The Liberals seemed both outnumbered and outranked” English, Decline of Politics, p. 157

[59] Patrick Ferraro, English Canada and the Election of 1917. M.A. Thesis, McGill 1972. Ferraro demonstrates that most Laurier Liberals outside Quebec who were elected favoured conscription.

[60] Tarah Brookfield, “Divided by the Ballot Box: The Montreal Council of Women and the 1917 Election” Canadian Historical Review Vol 80 No 4. December 2008, p. 473 – 501

[61]  Montreal Gazette 16 August 1918 p. 1

[62] Tim Cook, No Place to Run is the best account of gas warfare. See also his chapter in Douglas Delaney and Serge Durflinger (eds) Capturing Hill 70 (Vancouver 2017) p. 125 – 126 and Robert Engen, “Force Preservation: Medical Services” in Capturing Hill 70 p. 173 – 174

[63] Montreal Gazette 17 August 1917, p. 1.

[64] Robert T. Foley, “The Other Side of the Hill” in Delaney and Durflinger, Hill 70, p. 198

[65] Geoff Jackson, “Anything but Lovely, The Canadian Corps at Lens in the Summer of 1917” CMH Vol 17, No 1 2008. For memorial and memory on Hill 70, Lens, see Serge Durflinger “A Battle Forgotten? Remembering Hill 70 in Its Time and Ours” in Delaney and Durflinger, Hill 70

[66] Montreal Gazette,  27, 29, 30, August 1917

[67] Stewart, “Frustrated Belligerence…” p. 43 

[68] Sheffield, Haig, p. 335

[69] Nicholson, CEF p. 312-313

[70] Mark Osborne Humphries, (ed) The Selected Papers of Sir Arthur Currie (Waterloo 2008) p. 54 – 56

[71] Ibid, p. 66

[72] Montreal Gazette 27 October p. 1. See also Jeffrey A. Keshen, Propaganda and Censorship During Canada’s Great War (Edmonton 1996)

[73] The Gazette, Star and La Presse printed the official casualty lists as they were made available. The quotations are from the Gazette 17 November 1917, p. 20

[74] Montreal Gazette 20 November 1917 p. 1

[75] H. A. C. Machin, Report of the Director of the Military Service Branch (Ottawa 1919) p. 42

[76] English, The Decline of Politics, p. 191 – 192

[77] Ibid, p. 192

[78]  All newspapers reported on Laurier’s declaration. This quotation is from the thoughtful editorial in the Montreal Witness December 11, 1917 p. 1 which argued that Laurier’s position allowed “win the war” advocates to vote Liberal.

[79] Le Devoir 9 November 1917 p. 1, 10 November 1917 p. 1

[80] Patrice Dutil and David Mackenzie, Embattled Nation Canada’s Wartime Election of 1917 (Toronto 2017) p. 180-181

[81] Based on a review of the daily press. See J. Castell Hopkins, Canadian Annual Review 1917 “General Elections of 1917” p. 587-643 for a summary of the campaign and Granatstein, Broken Promises, Chapter 3

[82] Extensive coverage of the Halifax explosion began on 7 December and continued for several days. See John Griffith Armstrong, The Halifax Explosion and the Royal Canadian Navy (Vancouver 2011)

[83] The text of the “Lansdowne Letter” is available online. See also Douglas Newton, “The Lansdowne Peace Letter of 1917 and the Prospects of Peace by Negotiation with Germany” Australian Journal of Politics and History Vol 48 No 1, p. 16-39

[84] Le Devoir 1 December 1917 p. 1. See also Geoff Keelan, “Catholic Neutrality, The Peace of Henri Bourassa” Journal of the Canadian Historical Association Vol 2, No 1 2011, p. 99-132

[85] Le Pays 8 December 1917 p. 1. See also Andreé Levesque, Éva Circé-Coté, libre-penseuse 1871-1949 (Montréal 2011) translated as Freethinker, The Life and Works of Éva Circé-Coté (Toronto 2017)

[86] John Matthew Barlow, “The House of the Irish” Irishness, History and Memory in Griffintown, Montreal 1868-2000″ PHD Concordia, 2002, p. 165 – 168.

[87] Canadian Jewish Chronicle 4 September 1914 p. 4, 11 September 1914 p. 2.

[88] Stuart E. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community in Canada Vol 2. (Toronto 1971) p. 90 and Gerald Tuchinsky, Canada’s Jews: A People’s Journey (Toronto 2008) p. 174

[89] Guide to Sources Related to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, Miscellaneous Infantry Units, Jewish Reinforcing Company

[90] Tulchinsky, Canada’s Jews, p. 174 – 175. See also Zachariah Kay, “A Note on Canada and the Formation of the Jewish Legion” Jewish Social Studies, Vol 29, July 1967, p. 171 – 177 and Michael Keren and Shlomit Keren, We Are Coming Unafraid: The Jewish Legion and the Promised Land in the First World War (Lanham 2010)

[91] Tulchinsky, Canada’s Jews, p. 169 – 170

[92] Canadian Jewish Chronicle 1 June 1917 p. 1

[93] Ibid, 22 June 1917 p. 1

[94] Ibid, 25 May 1917 p. 2, 13 July 1917 p. 2

[95] Ibid, 21 December 1917 p. 1

[96] Skelton, Laurier Vol 2, p. 542

[97] As John English has demonstrated the Unionist caucus was dominated by Presbyterians and Methodists many of whom saw the war as a crusade which would bring regeneration in the form of social and moral reform. English, Decline of Politics p. 200

[98] Desmond Morton, A Peculiar Kind of Politics, p. 148

One thought on “Chapter VI – 1917

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