Sites of the First World War
This 13-part series features stories from and about the sites of the First World War. Each video in the series, with the exception of the introduction and conclusion, includes a brief introductory text. Accompanying each video is also a Conversation kit, which can be used to guide discussion and reflection about the content of the video. These conversation kits can be used in classrooms as well as the wider community as a form of active engagement with the War Heritage Research Initiative. We invite and encourage you to share this website and its content widely.
Please note, each vignette opens with 20 seconds of silence.
2. Soldier Factory
On August 4, 1914 Great Britain and her dominions (including Canada), declared war on Germany. Canada’s base Valcartier, Quebec soon became the focus of a massive training operation to prepare Canada’s expeditionary force for battle. Minister of Militia and Defence, Sir Sam Hughes, played an active and often controversial role in mobilization.
3. When They Marched to War
On Saturday, June 12, 1915 in Saint John, New Brunswick, the 26th Battalion paraded through the city for embarkation overseas. They marched from the Barrack Green Armoury to the wharf where their ship, the Caledonia, awaited. Crowds of civilians lined the streets, cheering and waving farewell as the brass bands played.
During the First World War Canada was part of the British Empire and fought with Britain against the Central Powers. The Canadian government considered recent immigrants from enemy nations to be a threat to Canada. More than 8,500 of these “enemy aliens” were rounded up and imprisoned in 24 internment camps across Canada.
5. Training Polish Soldiers
In 1917, 22,000 Polish volunteers came to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario to train for the First World War. Although the men were destined to join the French army once in Europe, Canada’s role was to prepare them for battle. A painting depicts a poignant scene of life on Niagara Lake.
6. Dominion Arsenal
During the First World War, thousands of Canadian men went overseas to fight, leaving their lives and jobs behind. To fill these jobs, many women went to work — some for the first time. Canadian women supported the war effort in many ways including working in factories such as the Dominion Arsenal. One of the jobs they had was to fill ammunition cartridges for the battlefield.
7. War Horses
Soldiers were not the only ones who risked their lives on First World War battlefields. Thousands of Canadian horses also served the war effort. They transported men, hauled equipment and towed heavy guns and ambulances. The large solid draft horse, the Percheron, was well suited to the hard work of war. In addition to being strong they were sure-footed and easy to keep clean in muddy conditions.
8. Chinese Labour Corps
In 1917, William Head Correctional Institution in Victoria, BC, served as a quarantine station for over 80,000 Chinese men as they arrived from China on their way to France to ease the Allies’ labour burden. The Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) were secretly assembled and moved by rail across Canada where they boarded ships bound for France.
9. The Explosion
On December 6, 1917, two ships collided in Halifax harbour—the SS Mont Blanc (a French ship) carrying explosive materials and the SS Imo (a Norwegian cargo ship). The SS Mont Blanc caught fire and, 20 minutes later, exploded in what was then the largest man-made explosion in history.
10. The Sniper from Rigolet
Lance Corporal John Shiwak of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment is a decorated First World War hero. He is from the remote Inuit community of Rigolet, Labrador. Shiwak’s skill as a marksman earned him the reputation as one of the best snipers in the British Army. He was described as a writer, poet, “a great favourite with all ranks, an excellent scout and observer, and a thoroughly good, reliable fellow in every way.” Shiwak died in November 1917 from shell fire in the Battle of Cambrai. He is buried close to the site of the battle and the village of Masnières. He was 28 years old.
11. War Trophies
During the First World War, Dominion Archivist, Sir Arthur Doughty, created a detailed inventory of German artillery captured by Canadian soldiers as trophies of war. These pieces were allocated to communities across Canada to serve as monuments to fallen soldiers.
12. Heart of the Nation
On Parliament Hill, at the heart of the Peace Tower, is a sanctuary created for remembrance and reflection. The Memorial Chamber was originally designed and dedicated to the Canadians who died during the First World War. Today this space of honour pays tribute to all military personnel who died in service to Canada.