The Battle of Vimy Ridge and Its Effect on Canadian Nationalism

Many historians believe that the success of the Canadian Corps in the Great War was a primary source in the development of Canadian nationalism and pride amongst citizens and soldiers. Canada’s identity and reputation evolved on an international scale as a result of Canada’s war efforts through memorable battles such as the Battle of Somme and the Battle of Vimy Ridge. These battles also helped Canada earn its sovereignty, making them less and less of an imperial dominion under the control of Britain, therefore allowing Canada to make more independent decisions in regards to world affairs.
French-Canadians sought for independence as they were opposed to both British imperialism and Canada’s involvement in the War; this would help spark Canadian nationalism and help preserve French culture. The Canadian Corps was formed by the Canadian Expeditionary Force and consisted of four divisions by August 1916. It was made up of people from different provinces and different ethnicities; however they all fought representing their Country. It was noted by one veteran, “We went up as Albertans and Nova Scotians. We came down as Canadians”.
When Canadian troops first arrived in England, Lord Kitchener, the British Minister of War, intended to split up the Canadian divisions amongst existing British battalions. However, Sam Hughes, the Canadian military commander ignored Lord Kitcheners intentions and kept the Canadian soldiers together. This showed that Canada could fight as an independent unit and was not just an extension of the British army. Distinguishing the Canadian Expeditionary force from the British force gave soldiers a sense of national identity and pride.

While Canada joined the war based on the obligation to help Britain, they were now representing Canada by fighting for their patriotism. The Canadian Corps was regarded as one of the most effective fighting forces on the Western Front. Their effectiveness came from their ability to study the successes from other allied forces, which they used to implement doctrine and new tactics that were religiously practiced in training and eventually put to use on the battlefield. This was most noticeable during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, where Canadians achieved victory that no other allied force could achieve.
The Canadian victory at Vimy Ridge was referred to by the media as “the birth of a nation” where they earned respect from the other allied nations and proved that they were a strong and independent nation. For the first time, all four Canadian divisions fought in the same battle as a cohesive unit where they “captured more arms and more prisoners (4,000) than any other Allied offensive since the start of the war”. This instilled national pride not only within the soldiers but within the nation itself.
After the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Sir Arthur William Currie was appointed as the first Canadian commander of the Canadian Corps which was previously commanded by the British. This was a pivotal point in Canadian history as Canada earned the respect from the British to command their own units, signifying Canada’s independency from Britain. After the Great War, Canada continued to demonstrate its independency from Britain. At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, all the countries involved in the war were gathered to sign the Treaty of Versailles; Canada demanded to sign the treaty without British permission.
This gave Canada worldwide recognition of being a separate nation from Britain and allowed them to have a stronger position in regards to world affairs. The view of Canada being a separate identity from Britain was also amplified when they joined the League of Nations as an independent country. Both these events demonstrated that Canada has a voice and is able to make independent decisions in regards to world political affairs. On the opposite scope, French-Canadians were establishing nationalism within Canada.
The majority of French-Canadians were highly against British imperialism and the fact that Canada joined the war based on this notion. French-Canadians wanted to be independent of Britain and felt that it was not their duty to support them in the war. Henri Bourassa with support from French Canada urged that Canada separate from Britain so that they would no longer be dragged into wars. By the influence of Bourassa, many French Canadians were opposed to volunteering to the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Bourassa believed that Canada’s commitment to help Britain win the war would eventually lead to conscription; this would then force many French-Canadians to participate in the war. Bourassa felt that the “war was merely serving British imperialist aims” as Canadian politics introduced Regulation 17 in 1912 which limited French language education. Regulation 17 was believed to be the main reason why French-Canadians did not participate in the war. English Canadians thought that French Canadians were not pulling their weight in the war effort as only 5% of volunteers came from French Canada.
Despite Bourassa’s efforts to prevent conscription, Prime Minister Robert Borden implemented conscription in 1917. In the end, only 24,132 conscripts made it to France before the end of the war. The Great War was considered by many Canada’s war of independence. Through the progression of the war and after many victories, Canada earned worldwide recognition for their achievements. More specifically, their use of highly developed tactics enabled them to earn victory at Vimy Ridge where both the British and French forces had failed.
Battles such as the one at Vimy Ridge provided a national identity for Canada, both on the international and domestic scales. This marked the start of Canada’s sovereignty, separating them from British Imperialism which would continue well up into the mid 20th century. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Weir, E. (Fall, 2004). Using the Legacy of World War I to Evaluate Canadian Military Leadership in World War II. Journal of Military and Strategic Studies. [ 2 ]. Maroney, Paul. (1998). ‘Lest We Forget’: War and Meaning in English Canada.
Journal of Canadian Studies. pp. 108-124. [ 3 ]. Bindo, Kathryn (1979). More Than Patriotism. Toronto, ON: Personal Library Publishers. [ 4 ]. Nersessian, Mary (April 9, 2007). Vimy battle marks birth of Canadian nationalism. CTV. ca [ 5 ]. Baril, Lynda (2002). Ordeal by Fire. Canada: A people’s History. http://www. cbc. ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP12CH1PA3LE. html, accessed 2012 Nov 3. [ 6 ]. Bourassa, Henri. The French Canadian in the British Empire. (London: John Murray, 1902), 26, 30-31. [ 7 ]. Brookl, Adriana.
The Canada/Britain Relationship. The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections. http://library. mcmaster. ca/archives/exhibits/worldwar_canadabritain, accessed 2012 Nov 3. [ 8 ]. Murrow, Casey (1968). Henri Bourassa and French Canadian Nationalism. Montreal, QC: Harvest House. pp. 87-88. [ 9 ]. Ibid. p91. [ 10 ]. Bumstead, J. M. The Peoples of Canada, “A Post-Confederation History”. [ 11 ]. Ibid. [ 12 ]. English, J. (1991). The Canadian Army and the Normandy Campaign: A Study of Failure in High Command. Praeger Publishers.

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