“Canada at War”, First World War (FWW), Gov. Publications, Aug, 1914.

  • “Canada at War,” Special Session of Parliament, Aug. 1914.
  • Bourassa, the Dirty: “The Consequences to Canada.”
  • The Duty of Canada at the present hour.
  • Spañiard: Canada Willingly Declared War, Fact or Myth?

Canada at War Aug. 14.

Canada’s position had been made clear on various recent occasions by her leading statesmen. In January 1910 Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then Prime Minister, declared in the House of Commons, “When Britain is at war, Canada is at war. There is no distinction.” The Leader of the Opposition at the time, Sir Robert Borden, had expressed himself in similar vein, and now on the eve of war pronouncements in the daily press made it clear that the whole country accepted this view.


It is proper that I should state to the House some matters which have to do with the precautions which the Government was obliged to take on the outbreak of the war. I need not say that in the United Kingdom among those most closely in touch with these matters, especially among the military and naval authorities in the United Kingdom, there has been for many years a conviction that some effective organization in the dominions of the empire should be provided so that an emergency such as that which arose so suddenly would not find us altogether in confusion. Documents were presented to the Government of Canada, and submitted to me for consideration by the Under Secretary of State for ‘ External Affairs, Sir Joseph Pope, last December; and on the 6th day of January, 1914, after having gone carefully over the documents which were so submitted, I wrote to him the following letter which I think it desirable to communicate to the House:

Prime Minister’s Office, Canada, Ottawa, January 6, 1914.

Dear Sir Joseph Pope,—•

I have carefully considered the papers which you left with me a short time ago relating to a proposed conference of deputy heads for the purpose of concerting measures to be taken by the various departments of the Government, primarily concerned, in the contingency of an outbreak of war affecting His Majesty’s dominions, and more particularly, of considering the preparation of a War Book which shall set forth in detail the action to be taken by every responsible official at the seat of Government in the event of such an emergency.

The suggestion meets with my approval, and as the first notification of the outbreak of hostilities would emanate from your department. I authorize you, as Under Secretary of State for External Affaires, to call such a conference of deputy heads, to consist in the first instance of (1) yourself as chairman: (2) the Governor General’s Secretary: (3) the Deputy Minister of Defence: (4) the Deputy Minister of Justice: (5) the Deputy Minister of Naval affaires: (6)the Commissioner of Customs: (8) the Deputy Postmaster General: (9) the Deputy Minister of Railways and Canals, with Major Gordon Hall, Director of Gunnery (represented the Department of Naval Service), as joint secretaries.

You will keep informed from the time of the progress and results of your deliberations.

Yours faithfully, Sgd.) R.L. Borden.

Correspondence With British Government.

  The correspondence which has passed between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United Kingdom, and also the correspondence which has taken place between Mr. Perly and myself, as the Orders in Council, have been laid on the table. I may say that on returning to Ottawa on the morning of August 1st, I consulted with such of my colleagues as were in Ottawa at that time and sent two telegrams both of which have since been made public, one yesterday and one on a previous occasion. The first telegram I sent on August 1st is as fallows:-

Aug. 1, 1914.

Secret. In view of the impending danger of war involving the empire, my advisers are anxiously considering the most effective means of rendering every possible aid and they will welcome any suggestion and advice which Imperial naval and military authorities may deem it expedient to offer. They are confident that a considerable force would be available for service abroad. A question has been mooted respecting the status of any Canadian force serving abroad as under “section sixty-nine of Canadian Militia Act,”

Active militia can only be placed on active service beyond Canada for the defence thereof. It has been suggested that regiments might enlist as Imperial troops for state period. Canadian Government undertake to make all necessary financial provision for their equipment, pay, and maintenance. This proposal has not yet been maturely considered here and my advisers would be glad to have views of Imperial Government thereon.

The answer which we received and which was not made public at the time, as war had not yet broken out, was on the 3rd of august, and it is as fallows:

With reference to your cypher telegram 2nd Aug., please inform your ministers that their patriotic readiness to render every aid is deeply appreciated by His Majesty’s Government, but they would prefer postponing detailed observations on the suggestion put forward, pending further- developments. As soon as situation appears to call for further measures I will telegraph you again.

That telegram is significant because it shows that then, on the 3rd August, the Imperial Government not only were using every endeavour to preserve peace, but had hopes that peace might be preserved. Therefore, they made their answer to us in the guarded language which I have just quoted.

Mr. W. F. MACLEAN: Is that signed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies?

Sir ROBERT BORDEN: That is signed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Harcourt. All these communications go from His Royal Highness to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the replies are received in the same way. On the 4th day of August they sent us the fallowing telegram with regard to the same matter:

Though there seems to be no immediate necessity for any request on our part for an expeditionary force from Canada, I think, in view of their generous offer, your ministers would be wise to take all legislative and other steps by which they would be enabled without delay to provide such a force in case it should be required later.

On the 6th day of August they sent us the following despatch:

With reference to my telegram of August 4, His ‘Majesty’s Government gratefully accept offer of your ministers to send expeditionary force to this country, and would be glad if it could be despatched as soon as possible. Suggested composition fallows:

The suggested composition which fallowed later was, as stated by my right hon. Friend the leader of the Opposition, to whom I have communicated several of these despatches in the meantime, that we should send forward a division comprising about 22, 500 men. On the 1st day of August I also sent through His Royal Highness the Governor General the following Telegram:

My advisers, while expressing their most earnest hope that peaceful solution of existing international difficulties may be achieved and their strong desire to co-operate in every possible way for that purpose, wish me to convey to His Majesty’s Government the firm assurance that, if unhappily war should ensue, the Canadian people will he united in a common resolve to put forth ever}’ effort and to make every sacrifice necessary to ensure the integrity and maintain the honour of our Empire.


I desire to express appreciation at this moment of the action of the provinces of Canada and of individuals in Canada during the past week or ten days. From provinces, from individuals, gifts have come, great and small, showing the intense eagerness of the people and of every province in Canada to associate themselves in this great issue with what we are doing in the Dominion as a whole, and with all that is being done in every dominion of the empire. The people as a whole, not only here in Canada, but in the mother country itself and in every dominion will, I am sure, feel the most grateful appreciation and render the warmest thanks for all the aid thus tendered. I have spoken already of our action with regard to reservists. I have said that we have proclaimed to them that as citizens of Canada they are entitled to the protection of our laws and that they are not to be molested, unless they attempt to leave this country to fight against us, or to give aid to the enemy or otherwise violate obligations undertaken as citizens of Canada. I might allude to the fact that we found it necessary to establish censorship. That was regarded as absolutely essential at the outset; and we took upon ourselves to order censorship, trusting that Parliament, in so far might be necessary, would approve our action afterwards. We had also to take measures with regard to the detention of ships. All such matters had been arranged by the inter-departmental committee. We had also to provide for the prohibition of the export of certain articles. That prohibition has since been relaxed in one or two particulars, after consultation with the Imperial authorities; and in so far as the prohibition may not be found necessary for the purposes of war it perhaps may be further relaxed from time to time.


It is not fitting that I should prolong this debate. In the awful dawn of the greatest war the world has ever known, in the hour when peril confronts us such as this empire has not faced for a hundred years, every vain or unnecessary word seems a discord. As to our duty, all are agreed: we stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain and the other British dominions in this quarrel. And that duty we shall not fail to fulfil as the honour of Canada demands. Not for love of battle, not for lust of conquest, not for greed of possessions, but for the cause of honour, to maintain solemn pledges, to uphold principles of liberty, to withstand forces that would convert the world into an armed camp; yea, in the very name of the peace that we sought at any cost save that of dishonour, we have entered into this war; and while gravely conscious of the tremendous issues involved and of all the sacrifices that they may entail, we do not shrink from them, but with firm hearts we abide the event.

The Que Chronicle Wed Aug 5th 1914.

A special session of the Canadian Parliament was opened on 18th August, 191-1, to consider and confirm certain emergency measures adopted by the Government, on account of the outbreak of war, to pass the necessary authority for sending Canadian Military Contingents to the front as well as financing this and other undertakings for the defence of Canadian and Imperial interests, and to obtain such legislation as would enable the administration for the benefit of the people to deal with the conditions which would arise from Canada and the empire being engaged in a European war. The session lasted five days. Sir Robert Borden, the Primp Minister, delivered the following speech on the address to his Royal Highness, the Governor-General, in reply to the speech from the throne:

Speech by Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Laird Borden K.C., P.O., G.C.M.G.

 “As to our duty, all are agreed: we stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain and the other British dominions in this quarrel. And that duty we shall not fail to fulfil as the honour of Canada demands. Not for love of battle, not for lust of conquest, not for greed of possessions, but for the cause of honour, to maintain solemn pledges, to uphold principles of liberty, to withstand forces that would convert the world into an armed camp; yea, in the very name of the peace that v.-e sought at any cost save that of dishonour, we have entered into this war; and while gravely conscious of the tremendous issues involved and of all the sacrifices that they may entail, we do not shrink from them, but with firm hearts we abide the event.”

In his address before the Canadian Club of Montreal, on the 14th of December, the Finance Minister, Mr White, stated that the war budget will require an annual borrowing of $100,000,000. till the war is over. This is equivalent to the total yearly expenditure of the country, for all national purposes. It does not include the war pensions, a large portion of which will be paid, for many years, to residents of the United Kingdom.


Henri Bourassa in his paper, Le Devoir quote extracts from his article,

“The Consequences to Canada,” as follows:—

“If the Kaiser had given to the British Government the absolute assurance that Germany would construct, during the next ten years, no warship, no torpedo boat, no submarine, no Zeppelin, not an English soldier would have crossed the Channel—neither to. “save” France nor to protect the neutrality of Belgium.

“English statesmen are not able to be at the same time loyal to their country and faithful to their alliances. On every occasion they have sacrificed international loyalty to their duty toward their own country.”

Nor is this all. Speaking of the causes leading up to the war, Bourassa deliberately charges the Canadian leaders with having deceived the people of Canada into taking action to help England.

Hesitates that they have “grotesquely misrepresented the real causes of the conflict and the true nature of the relations of France and England.”

“It was necessary at all costs that this Canadian aid should take an exaggerated, blustering, loud-mouthed form, worthy of the rich and corpulent parvenus who dominate high finance, commerce and the politics of the Canadian nation. It was necessary that it should profit, above all, boodlers, vampires, furnishers of bribes and of election subscriptions, traffickers in boots made out of unseasoned leather and of razors made in Germany. Glory be to the Empire!”

The Duty of Canada Henri Bourasas

Extracts as fallows:-

“The Duty of Canada at the present hour;” Henri Bourassa Director of Le Devoir.

 An address meant to be delivered at Ottawa, in November and December, 1914, but twice suppressed in the name of “Loyalty and Patriotism.”

Bourassa announced to give a public address in Ottawa, on Sunday evening, Nov. 22nd, at the Imperial Theatre, Bank Street, opposite the Alexandra Hotel.

The Duty of Canada at the present hour, extracts; Canada, an Anglo-French community, bound to Great Britain and France by a thousand ties, ethnical, social, intellectual and economic, has a vital interest in the preservation of France and Britain, in the maintenance of their prestige, power and action in the world. It is therefore the national duty of Canada to contribute, in the measure of her resources and by such means of action as she may command, to the success and above all to the endurance of the combined efforts of France and Great Britain. But if we want our contribution to be effective, if we mean to keep up the effort, we must face with clearsighted resoluteness the grim realities of the situation; we must calculate the exact measure of our means of action, and secure first the internal safety of Canada, before we attempt to settle the affairs of the world.

Whether Canada has or has not a strict obligation to help, directly or indirectly, the cause of France and England, one fact is indisputable: the effects of this tremendous conflict will be deeply felt in Canada as in the rest of the world. It will be particularly disastrous in Canada on account of certain local and accidental causes: intense immigration in late years, exclusive dependence upon British capital, extravagant speculation, excessive borrowings by public bodies and individuals, etc., etc. Canadians are just on the point of realising how poor Canada is, financially speaking. They arc just beginning to perceive that they have been living extravagantly on borrowed money, which they are called upon to pay back at the very moment they are unable to do it. The crushing weight of the burden will be increased in proportion to our direct contribution to the war: the larger that contribution the greater the strain upon meagre financial recourses, not to speak of the stoppage of our industries and the weakening of our military forces, which may be needed to preserve internal peace.

If a general collapse is to be avoided, these aspects of the situation call for the immediate attention and cooperation of all men of good will. And they must be viewed primerly from the point of Canada’s interests.

Canada First. Page 6

Everyone speaks of the duties of Canada to Great Britain or France. Who has thought of the duties of Canada to herself?

It may be objected that it is too late to consider the question: the parliament and people of Canada have, decided upon it, emphatically and unanimously; the active participation of Canada in the European war is settled; to pursue that participation with fullstrength and celerity is all that remains to be done.

The answer to that objection is that it is never too late for nations or individuals to think of the consequences of their actions.

We are yet at the beginning of the war. If, as generally asserted and as decreed by parliament with apparent unanimity, Canada is bound to share actively in this war, it is assuredly the duly of the Canadian government to make our participation as efficient as possible, and to minimise the grave effects of that participation upon the economic and social life of the country.

It is also the duly of all citizens to help the government with such advice and information as may guide its movements. In all national crises, the government is not to be considered as a mere group of politicians of doubtful or diverse ability, temporarily invested with authority. The men in office represent the power of the nation. They ought to be enlightened, informed and advised. They must even be supported till they are guilty of betrayal. National accord demands the adjournment of party quarrels and acrimonious discussions; it does not however impose silence in face of danger, nor complicity in any crime or error; nor does it call for any sacrifice of principle.


Canada is far worse prepared with war equipment than England herself, inferior as Britain may be in that respect to all continental countries. Yet, our ministers do not seem to have given a single thought to those considerations, which have weighed so heavily upon the mind of the British War Secretary. They seem to have thought only of one thing: raise quickly a big number of recruits. Out of the thirty-one thousand volunteers gone, and of the twenty thousand now being enlisted, how many are prepared to do honour to Canada, and maintain the power and responsibilities of the Empire?

How have they been trained? How armed, clothed and shod?

Spañard: “Canada willingly went to War,” as stated by the status quo, I certainly think not!

True, much has been said about the admittance of a Canadian representative to the Committee of Imperial Defence. But although one member of the Canadian government, Mr. Perley, was present in London when the Imperial authorities discussed the issues which brought us into this war, we have it from Sir Robert Borden himself that the Canadian Government was not consulted by the British minister. [1] Memorandum of the Colonial Defence Committee, December 31st 1896.

Those propositions have never been disallowed or modified by the British authorities. They stand by themselves, against any obligation on the part of Canada to contribute to Imperial wars outside her own territory. Besides, Canada is still in the inferior situation of having no word to say in the Councils of the Empire, which decide whether the Empire is in peace or at war, and controls the whole naval and military forces of the Empire. That position has been rightly described by Sir Robert Borden as intolerable.

“If Canada and the other Dominions of the Empire are to lake their part as nations of this Empire in the defence of the Empire as a whole, shall it be that we, contributing to that defence of the whole Empire, shall have absolutely, as citizens of this country, no voice whatever in the Council’s of the Empire touching the issues of peace or war throughout the Empire? I do not believe the people of Canada would for one moment submit to such a condition.” [2] ‘Debates,’ House of Commons, November 24th, 1910,-col. 227.

It was stated in and out of Parliament, Canada’s participation in the war as part of the British Empire is in duty bound to participate actively in every conflict in which Great Britain may be drawn. That doctrine is contrary to all traditions, to basic principles upon which rests our constitution, to the long standing agreement between the motherland and her self-governing colonies. Canada, as a mere irresponsible dependency of Great Britain, has no moral or constitutional obligations nor any immediate interest in the present war.

Great Britain has entered the conflict of her own free will, in consequence of her entanglements in the international situation. She has framed her policy and decided her action with the sole view to her own interests, without consulting her colonies or considering in any respect their peculiar situation and local interests.

The territory of Canada is not exposed to the attacks of any of the belligerent nations. An independent Canada would be today in absolute safety. The dangers to which her trade may be exposed result from the fact that she is a British policy and the risks of a military intervention decided by the Imperial government upon their exclusive authority and responsibility. It is therefore the duty of Canada to defend Britain. Such was the doctrine laid down in 1854, 1862 in 1871 by Sir John McDonald, Sir George Cartier, Sir Alexander Campbell. It still holds good, in law and in fact. Besides, in protecting the territory and trade of her colonies, Great Britain first makes sure of her own subsistence.

Principles of Imperial defence:

The British Government have looked upon British interests as their sole inspiration and objective. If Canada is to assume the heaviest responsibilities of nationhood, even before she enjoys its prerogatives, she could not do better than to follow the example of England. The first duty of the Canadian Government in this crisis was therefore to consider the supreme interests of Canada, without ignoring, of course, the obligations arising from the suzerainty exercise by the United Kingdom over all British possessions.

Those obligations are not derived from a mere theory in constitutional law; they have been clearly defined by the Imperial authorities in 1854“Crimean War”, 1862“Trent Affair” and at various other times. They form the basis of a well understood agreement between the British and Canadian governments.

Under the terms of that agreement, never cancelled, never amended, the United Kingdom, having exclusive control of the foreign policy of the Empire, is bound to provide alone for its general defence; and the colonies, self-governing or not, have no other duty than that of contributing, in the measure of their resources, to the defence of their respective territories. Upon that principle, the various Militia Acts of Canada were passed. In conformity with that understanding, Sir John A. Macdonald refused, in 1885, I think, to supply Canadian regiments for Imperial service. To safeguard the same principle, the Laurier government introduced the so-called no-precedent clause in the Order-in-Council under which Canadian volunteers were enlisted for the South Africa war in 1899.

Borden was in Europe in 1915 and visited Canadian soldiers at the front and in hospitals in Britain. He was horrified at the suffering they had endured. He was even more appalled to learn of the incompetence of the British High Command and, as a result, demanded that Canada have more say in the Allied planning. Borden was also determined that the efforts of Canadian soldiers in France would be supported by adequate reinforcements. In the face of dwindling enlistment, he proposed conscription. [3] LAC The Right Honourable Sir Robert Borden 8th Prime Minister of Canada Oct. 10, 1911 – Jul. 10, 1920.




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