National Archives of Canada (C-095286).

 

 

Recognition did not come so easily for Canada's veterans of the Great War. When the war began in 1914, government pensions for military personnel were extremely uncommon. Private charities, such as the Patriotic Fund, assisted soldiers and their families if they were considered worthy of support. Private charities, however, badly lacked the resources needed to deal with the number of injured soldiers flowing back from the battlefields. Thus, the question of what should be done with the returning veterans had become a matter of great public concern long before the end of the war.

In 1915, the government created the Military Hospitals Commission (MHC) to address the needs of injured soldiers. The MHC acquired a large number of buildings and converted them into hospitals. It even began to produce artificial limbs in a Toronto factory. The MHC also tried to assist soldiers who had been victimized by disease rather than wounds. Tuberculosis and mental disease provoked by "shell shock" were relatively common among Canadian soldiers, and the Commission quickly began to build institutions to deal with these problems.

National Archives of Canada (PA-068115).

First World War Veterans Learning Handicrafts under the Department of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment, ca 1918-1919.

 

The government also introduced pensions and training courses for the disabled so that they could better adapt to work and life after the army. The Soldier Settlement Act of 1917 provided land for physically fit veterans who were serious about farming. Women in the nursing services and the disabled, however, were not included in the act's provisions.

Canada; An Illustrated Weekly Journal, 20 February 1917. ©Chinook Multimedia Inc.

"Vocational Training for Soldiers," Arts and Crafts Shop, Deer Lodge Military Hospital, Winnipeg, Manitoba, n.d.

 

The Department of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment (DSCR), formed in 1918, administered hospital and medical care for the sick and wounded, set pensions, selected appropriate training programs, and approved loans for soldiers settling on farms. The goal of these measures was, as the Canadian government promised in the 1917 election campaign, the "full re-establishment" of Canadian veterans. Soldiers were to be reintegrated into their communities and returned to economic self-sufficiency. Government assistance was designed as only a temporary measure.

Such promises were not fulfilled. In response, the returning soldiers began to create their own organizations. The most powerful of these was the Great War Veterans' Association. Through these organizations, the soldiers pressured the government to give preference to veterans when hiring and to increase pensions for common soldiers, widows, and the disabled.

Saskatchewan Archives Board (R-A19420).

"Denied Access to the Land Which He Bled to Defend," The Grain Growers Guide, 6 March 1918.

Veterans in Western Canada felt tremendous bitterness towards "war profiteers." They were seen as having fattened themselves on wartime contracts while the veterans were overseas fighting.

The dissatisfaction of Canadian soldiers became even greater after the war ended. Government plans for rapid repatriation of the troops to Canada -were unsuccessful. Moreover, the men and women who had seen duty in the various services came back to a Canada that was far different from the one they had left. Many soldiers were bitterly disillusioned by the high prices created by wartime inflation. Their own families seemed ill-prepared for their return. Like their American counterparts, the Canadian veterans demanded a $2,000 bonus, or one-time payment, to compensate each veteran for service. Ottawa ignored them.

Ultimately, Canada did very little for its soldiers. Programs that had enabled 40,000 disabled veterans to be trained and to find skilled jobs were cancelled after the war. By 1922, as many as 20 per cent of all returned veterans were unemployed. The government had no plans to help them. The country seemed more concerned with controlling its costs than with supporting those who had sacrificed for its protection.

The veterans and their organizations continued to demand increased pensions, but progress was frustratingly slow. Finally, in 1930, the government passed the War Veterans Allowance Act, providing military pensions to poor veterans over sixty years of age. These pensions granted $40 to married veterans and $20 to single individuals.

DocumentDocument
LER Collection, Edmonton Archives, MS - 209, Box 21, Military Correspondence - Pensions, 1930 (June-Dec.).

Letter from Walter Draycot to W.A. Griesbach, 21 August 1930.

Draycot writes to his former commander to request assistance in regaining his pension benefits.

The government's willingness to provide new pensions was, at least partially, due to the rejuvenation of the veterans' movement. After a strong start, the movement had gone into decline in the early 1920s. It had been re-energized when Field Marshal Earl Haig visited Canada and encouraged the veterans to come together and form one strong organization. As a result, they founded the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League in 1926. The Legion grew rapidly and became of great assistance in the re-establishment of veterans back home and in providing advice about pensions and other benefits. In 1960, the organization would be renamed the Royal Canadian Legion.

S. J. Duncan-Clark and W. R. Plewman, Pictorial History of the Great War (Toronto: J. A. Hertel, 1919). ©Chinook Multimedia Inc.

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.

Haig was in charge of the British Army during the First World War. He provided leadership to some of his former soldiers when he came to Canada in the 1920s and helped reinvigorate the emerging Canadian veterans' movement.
 

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