The Business of War: The Canadian Home Front in the First World War

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The Winnipeg Public Library is hosting a new traveling exhibit created by the Canadian Centre for the Great War open to the general public at the Millennium Library.  The exhibit “The Business of War: Canadian Businesses and the First World War” is located on the 4th floor and is about Canada’s wartime mobilization on the home front. Its panels explore how Canadian businesses large and small aided the war effort by supplying goods and helping to lift people’s spirits and raise money in order to keep support our troops and the overall Allied cause.  While warfare throughout the ages always required soldiers fighting on battlefields, the First World War also came to require of Canadians an unprecedented mobilization of all their resources and that is where the term “home front” was coined.  Library materials related to the exhibit are displayed as well so you can further your knowledge about this topic.

Image result for The Great War and Canadian Society: An Oral History  Cover image for Hometown horizons : local responses to Canada's Great War

One of the library’s older (published in 1978) but valuable title that is filled with personal accounts of this time period is The Great War and Canadian Society: An Oral History.  The book was written when Canadians who had lived through that time were still able to provide a living link to our history and the testimonies included come from people from all walks of life, ages, and locations.  I definitely recommend it for those interested in reading about men and women’s experiences in wartime Canada.
In Hometown Horizons: Local Responses to Canada’s Great War, historian Robert Rutherdale has chosen three Canadian towns (Lethbridge, Alberta, Guelph, Ontario, and Trois-Rivières, Quebec) in order to explore the local social history of the war, and how it affected these communities in different ways.  The demonizing of potential “enemy aliens” and other subversive forces is explored in Lethbridge as one internment camp was built there, as well as local citizens’ reactions to its presence.  The Conscription Crisis where efforts of Canadians to avoid being drafted resulted in aggressive raids to collect draft dodgers is explored in Guelph.  The rift that developed between returning veterans’ experiences on the front versus the second-hand and heavily censored portrayal made available on the home front is also explored, as well as the break with the past the war had on many aspects of life, notably on the role of women in the work force.
Cover image for Fight or pay : soldiers' families in the Great War
Desmond Morton’s book Fight or pay : soldiers’ families in the Great War is about those who were left to carry on when sons and husbands were sent overseas to fight and how the government’s early efforts to create a safety net were spurred by war’s traumatic impact on the home front. It’s often overlooked that the conflict ended up costing lives at home as well as the front as numerous families lost their main provider and had to rely on charity (such as the Patriotic Fund) and limited military pensions from Ottawa at a time where attitudes toward such support was quite negative.  It also heralded a new reality where both the state and private philanthropists were managing family decisions that had never been their business before.   This book will be of interest to those wanting to increase their understanding of the issues that faced the families and the fighting men in 1914-1918.

Cover image for Firing lines : three Canadian women write the First World War

Firing lines : three Canadian women write the First World War by Debbie Marshall is the story of three Canadian journalists who were present in both France and England during the pivotal events of the conflict and reported their personal observations in letters, articles and books.  Mary MacLeod Moore, a writer for Saturday Night magazine , covered the war’s impact on women, from the munitions factories to the kitchens of London’s tenements. Beatrice Nasmyth, a writer for the Vancouver Province, managed the successful wartime political campaign of Canadian Roberta MacAdams and attended the Versailles Peace Conference as Premier Arthur Sifton’s press secretary. Elizabeth Montizambert was in France during the war and witnessed the suffering of its people first-hand. She was often near the fighting, serving as a canteen worker and writing about her experiences for the Montreal Gazette.

Cover image for No free man : Canada, the Great War, and the enemy alien experience
About 8,000 Canadian civilians were imprisoned during the First World War because of their ethnic ties to Germany, Austria-Hungary, and other enemy nations. Although not as well-known as the later internment of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, these incarcerations played a crucial role in shaping debates about Canadian citizenship, diversity, and loyalty and this is what No free man : Canada, the Great War, and the enemy alien experience by Bohdan Kordan aims to demonstrate.  Re-settled in a network of government-run camps throughout Canada, they were forcibly mobilized in the war effort, most often in agriculture or lumber industries.  This is a valuable book about the dark side of our country’s war effort that remains as pertinent to our present world as then.
Come and check it out.
Louis-Philippe
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