Canoes in a Fog - Courtesy of the Glenbow Museum

The Fur Trade and the Opening of Canada: 1400 - 1867

Across the future Canada, communities of Aboriginal Peoples inhabit a land of lakes and rivers. They hunt beaver and other fur bearing animals. European explorers, searching for a shortcut to China, encounter an unknown continent. Cabot reaches Newfoundland.  Iroquois leader Donnacona leads Cartier up the St. Lawrence River to his "kanata" where there is an abundance of beaver.  The furs make their way back  to Europe where they are a fashion rage.  To meet the growing demand, Champlain builds a settlement at Quebec and explores inland.  The Algonquin and Huron eagerly exchange fur pelts with "coureurs-de-bois"  for goods made of iron.  The Great Lakes basin is mapped. 

Radisson and des Groseilliers, working for the English king, plan to ship furs out of Hudson Bay and the Hudson's Bay Company is born.  The French, led by La Verendrye, counter with a string of posts stretching west from Lake Superior. The struggle for empire between France and England leads to the Seven Years' War.  Wolfe defeats Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham.  New France becomes a British colony. English merchants take over the French fur trade and create the North West Company.  For almost 250 years, the fur trade drives the economy and opens up a country called Canada.

The Call of Empire: 1914 - 1916

Peace reigns across the vast Dominion of Canada.  Railroads tie the country together and disperse a flood of immigrants.  Europe, where the Triple Alliance opposes the Triple Entente, is a powderkeg ready to explode.  The fuse is lit when the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary is assassinated by a Serbian nationalist.  The Great War ignites. Germany’s assault on France through neutral Belgium pulls the British Empire, including Canada, into the war.  

Canada answers The Call of Empire by authorizing the Canadian Expeditionary Force.   33,000 recruits train at Camp Valcartier.  Sailing for France amid great fanfare, the First Canadian Division enters the trench lines in the dangerous Ypres Salient in early 1915. The untested Canadians face horrific conditions and choking chlorine gas.  Lt.-Col. John McCrae pens his iconic poem, In Flanders Fields.  At home, Canadian industry shifts to war production.  Munitions factories send a million shells a month to the Western Front.  Farm production soars and Canada supplies food to her allies. Labour shortages in factories and farms are solved by employing more women.  Some 4,000 Aboriginal Peoples leave reservations to volunteer.  Visible minorities also enlist – among them are 2,600 African Canadians.In 1916, epic battles are fought at Verdun and at the Somme where the Canadians win impressive victories.  After two years of staggering casualties and dreaded telegrams, the stark reality of total war hangs heavily on Canadians.

Ordeal by Fire: 1916 - 1918

The Western Front remains deadlocked.  The technology of warfare is advancing rapidly.  Significant breakthroughs occur in the development of aircraft.  Canadian aces, like Billy Bishop, duel in dogfights high over the Western Front. The Allied situation in Europe is deteriorating fast.  Russia teeters on the verge of collapse as revolution sweeps across the country.  But a significant victory occurs when the Canadians capture the bastion of Vimy Ridge.  The Americans join the Allies.

The sacrifices of young Canadians overseas encourage even more sacrifices on the Home Front.  Workers are told to produce more.  Holidays disappear.  Food rationing begins.  People cultivate backyard gardens.  To pay for the war, the first ever income tax is introduced. A serious crisis threatens Canada’s war effort.  The endless slaughter on the Western Front causes the number of recruits to dwindle.  Prime Minister Borden passes the Military Service Act making overseas military service compulsory for all men aged 20 to 45.  Conscription sets off a firestorm of protest, especially in Quebec.

 Amid a quagmire of mud, he Canadians take Passchendaele Ridge in yet another Ordeal by Fire.  A massive explosion levels large sections of Halifax, killing 2,000. A long-overdue election is called for December 1917.  The issue is conscription.  To win at all costs, Borden passes the controversial Wartime Elections Act enfranchising female relatives of serviceman.  Borden wins a landslide victory, but Canada splits along linguistic lines.

In 1918, Russia pulls out of the war.  Germany, now free to fight a one-front war, unleashes all its forces along the Western Front to achieve victory before the Americans arrive.  The great German attack falters and the Allies launch a grand offensive.  Time and again, the Canadian Corps provides the shock troops.  It is Canada’s Hundred Days – victory follows victory.  On the verge of collapse, the Germans sue for peace.  The Kaiser abdicates.  An Armistice ends the war on November 11, 1918.  Four years of mass slaughter comes to an end.