CANADA AND WORLD WAR 1
This is a selection of free online resources about Canada and World War One (WW1) including soldiers’ letters and diaries, ebooks, films, official histories and much more.
The War Letters 1914-1918 series will include one book based on the letters of a Canadian soldier fighting during World War 1. It will be published in autumn of 2015. The resources listed are, therefore, just an initial choice. In the meantime, if you come across any resources that you think should be included please let me know.
One thing worth noting is that Canada, particularly through Library and Archives Canada, was at the forefront of the early digitisation of historic records. Sadly, the sites for many of these records have been ‘archived’– meaning while still currently available they are no longer properly maintained or upgraded. In time, as web standards change and improve, particularly with the widespread use of mobile devices, such sites will cease to be easily accessible or even available. Those interested in protesting about such neglect should write to Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage, responsible for the Library and Archives. Min.Glover@pch.gc.ca
Veterans Affairs Canada has a good introductory overview of Canada’s role World War 1.
The Canada Gazette is often referred to as the official newspaper of the government of Canada and is where all official announcements are made. All copies since 1841 have been digitised.
They can be searched by keyword, or by year. The site, while still working, is one of those that has been ‘archived’ and is therefore officially no ‘longer subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards.’
Historical Debates of the Parliament of Canada dating back to 1867 can all be freely searched and read online.
Minutes of Meetings of the Canadian Officers Training Corps from September 1914 to March 1918 are available online through the University of Manitoba special collections.
Official Yearbooks with government statistics for all years between 1867 and 1967 are freely available online. (This is another resource officially ‘archived’ and no longer kept up to current web standards.)
The War Diaries of the Canadian Expeditionary Force have been digitised by the Library and Archives of Canada. They can be searched by unit or date.
The online help is an extremely useful guide to searching through the records.
A list of the units whose diaries are held is also invaluable.
(Yet again, all these web pages have simply been archived and are no longer updated or improved.)
The Guides to Sources Relating to Units of the Canadian Expeditionary Force are an indispensable series of guides to the material held by the Library and Archives of Canada for almost every unit of the CEF. They are available as a series of PDFs.
SERVICE RECORDS [top]
The Library and Archives of Canada holds the service records to over 600,000 Canadians enlisted during World War 1 (WW1). At the moment, these records are being digitised, and are expected to be completed by March 2015. The current neglect of previously digitised items such as the unit war diaries makes one wonder what future plans, if any, they have for the material.
Sample documents from a typical Canadian soldiers’ record have been archived on the site.
Circumstances of Death Registers for members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force have all been digitised and are free to view online. There is also a helpful guide on how to search the register.
Courts Martial records of the First World War are held by the Library and Archives of Canada for members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Although the full records aren’t available online, you can find details of name, unit, date and crime. Search the records.
Canada in the Great World War was a series published between 1918 and 1921. The first two volumes were published while the war was still in progress. Comprised of chapters by different writers focusing on various aspects of the war, both at home and abroad, what the series lacks in historical perspective, it gains in immediacy and insight into thinking at the time. (Appendices in the different volumes deal with subjects which don’t neatly fit in the main narrative of events.)
Volume 1 deals with Canadian military history from 1608 to 1914.
Volume 2 starts with the preparations for war and ends in the spring of 1915.
Canada And The Battle Of Vimy Ridge, 9-12 April 1917, 1992 (PDF Version, 7.2 MB) by Brereton Greenhous and Stephen J. Harris is an early, classic account of the battle which became synonymous with Canada.
Theses Canada, provided by Library and Archives Canada, provides free access to thousands of Ph.D theses produced in Canada and voluntarily deposited by individual institutions. There are many about various aspects of World War 1 (WW1).
The Canadian Letters and Images Project is a fantastic resource where ‘the Canadian war experience, from any war, is told through the letters and images of Canadians themselves.’ They have over one hundred collections of letters from World War 1 which have all been transcribed. The site is very well laid out and easy to use.
Oral Histories of the First World War: Veterans 1914-1918 is a series of interviews with veterans of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, based on the CBC‘s radio broadcast In Flanders Fields. (Sadly yet another case of an archived and neglected resource.) It includes interviews about:
Numerous Canadian documentary films from the First World War – along with accompanying notes – are tucked away in a hard to find and forgotten corner of the National Film Board of Canada site. The films include:
(The films can be viewed in full screen as a pop-up by clicking ‘Plein écran’ in the corner of the viewer. They require an enabled flash player.)
In a more up-to-date part of their site they have a small number of more recent films about the war. These include:
Frontlines – ‘A tribute to the combatants in the First World War, this film traces the conflict through the war diary and private letters of five Canadian soldiers and a nurse.’
And We Knew How to Dance – a fifty-five minute documentary made in 1994 about the effect of World War 1 on women’s lives. It is based on interviews with twelve Canadian women, then aged 86 to 101, who recall their entry into what had been a male world of munitions factories and farm labour.
World War 1 Armistice is the title of collection of short films, mostly made in 2008, about different aspects of the war including the importance of religion and faith for Canadian soldiers and the role of nurses at the front.
In 1916, the Canadian born newspaper tycoon Sir Max Aitken (soon to be Lord Beaverbrook) set up a fund, the Canadian War Memorials Fund, to pay for artists to paint the war from a Canadian perspective. Most of those paintings are now held in the Canadian War Museum.
An essay by Laura Brandon, Curator of War Art at the Canadian War Museum gives some background and context to the collection.