Remembrance Day 2009 Resources

8 11 2009

War Memorial in Ottawa

The first Remembrance Day-related resource I am showcasing is Library and Archives Canada’s excellent website on the First World War. This website contains links to a host of online resources, including the database of Canadian Expeditionary Force enlistment records. This database allows people to look at the actual attestation papers signed by men at recruiting papers. (The surname search box makes it easy to look for ancestors). Each attestation paper gives the birthdate, address, next of kin, etc., of the man.

In my course on Canadian history since 1867, I ask the students to look at this attestation paper before coming to the lecture on the Great War. The paper is for a young guy from Winnipeg named Alexander Henderson Cuthbert who singed up 9 Nov 1917. I selected this paper from the database because Mr Cuthbert was pretty representative of the type of man who enlisted. He was a young, unmarried, city-dwelling, working-class immigrant from the British Isles.  I point out that farmers, francophones, married men, and people whose families had lived in Canada for many generations were massively under-represented in the Canadian military in WWI.

Many students bring their laptops to class, so I ask the students to plug Cuthbert’s address into Google Maps to get a sense of the type of neighbourhood he was from. (The Google Maps satellite view shows that his house was next to a railway, which drives home my point about social class and military recruiting).  The map also allows me to talk a little bit out the multicultural make-up of Winnipeg circa 1914 and the impact of the war on (non-British) immigrants.

The Cuthbert attestation paper usually generates a good discussion in class about why men join the military and the ways in which Old World national hatreds are imported into the western hemisphere. I usually share a personal anecdote about  going to high school in the Toronto area in the early 1990s, when the break-up of Yugoslavia set kids from different ethnic groups at odds.  I mention how some Anglo-Saxon Canadians at the time condemned the second-generation immigrants from the former Yugoslavia for bringing “Old World squabbles” into Canada.  I also point out that during the First World War, it was British immigrants who were having difficulty in severing their emotional connection to the homelands. The irony of this is not lost on my students!   As I remind my students,  in the First World War, the group most truly loyal to Canada were the French Canadians.