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ARCHIVED - Canada and the First World War

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Did You Know That…

If some things never change, when did they begin?

When something becomes commonplace, it is easy to forget the reason how and why it came into existence. Over time, even the most radical ideas can become routine and lose all sense of the controversy that might have existed when introduced. It is surprising to realize how many ordinary things that we experience today started as a result of the First World War. Like today, issues in the past did not appear out of nowhere. Many of the events that started in the First World War had been in the making for decades. However, the total upheaval that the War had on Canadian society made it easier to implement new and often controversial things.

Some things that are considered unquestionable today, such as women having the right to vote, were considered radical in the First World War. Other actions such as the adoption of Daylight Savings Time and the changing of the name of Berlin, Ontario to Kitchener were very controversial during the War, but have become more accepted over time. Perhaps income tax, introduced by the Dominion Government as a temporary wartime measure stands alone in being as hated now as it was 80 years ago.

If you want to find out when some interesting commonplace things of today began, click on the links below and explore some of the holdings that Library and Archives Canada has to offer.

A Voice Through Voting: The Franchise for Women

Before the outbreak of the First World War, a hard-fought battle was already being waged by women in countries such as Canada, Great Britain and the United States of America. Although women in these countries were bound by their nation's respective laws, they were denied any direct voice in changing them. Those who supported the idea of universal suffrage, or the right for both men and women to vote, were known as suffragists. The suffragettes, or female suffragists, of this era were unprecedentedly organized, vocal, and at times, disruptive in their efforts to protest the inequality that women faced.

The large suffrage demonstrations and marches, characteristic of the first decade of the twentieth century, declined with the upheaval of the Great War. Women, such as Albertan Nellie McClung, who were leaders in the fight for the franchise, became leaders in women's relief and voluntary organizations. As more men left for the battlefields, women successfully stepped into the breech in all manner of employment. It wasn't long before the disparity between women's obligations and rights became apparent.

At the beginning of 1916, Manitoba led the way with the enfranchisement of women in Canada, followed next by Saskatchewan and then Alberta and British Columbia. This was a limited victory for Western Canadian women, however, for the enfranchisement applied only to provincial elections. The Western Canadian example was not enthusiastically adopted in other provinces. Provincial suffrage for women extended across Canada at a slow pace with many provinces not passing enfranchisement legislation until after the Great War. The last province to adopt legislation for provincial women's suffrage was Quebec in 1940.

The franchise for women in federal elections was achieved, on the other hand, by the end of the Great War. The first step in legislating the federal franchise to women was reached in September 1917, when the Military Voters Act and the War-time Elections Act were given Royal Assent. The Military Voters Act, gave women on active military service, such as Nursing Sisters, the right to vote in federal elections. The War-time Elections Act, further extended the federal franchise to all women who were British subjects, over the age of 21 who were the, "wife, widow, mother, sister or daughter of any persons, male or female, living or dead" who was serving, or had served with the military forces. While the legislation gave the vote to more women in Canada than ever before, some believed that the Unionist government of Robert Borden only expanded the franchise so that new potential Unionist voters could be gained. On January 1, 1919, the franchise was further expanded to all non-Native Canadian women being British subjects and 21 years of age.

A Temporary Wartime Measure? Income Tax

The First World War placed an unprecedented drain upon the financial resources of the Dominion of Canada. To better utilize Canada's finite resources, every aspect of supply was regulated by the Dominion Government. Rationing was introduced for everyday items from building materials to gasoline, to food. The government, limited in the ways that new revenue could by gained, also issued wartime savings bonds, raised import tariffs and levied new wartime taxes.

A luxury tax on tobacco and alcohol was the first of many taxes to be introduced during the Great War. By 1915, a Dominion tax had also been imposed on transport tickets, telegrams, money orders, cheques and patent medicines. Even staple items, such as tea and coffee, were taxed by the end of the War. After initial goods and services taxes were introduced, the Dominion Government moved to tax the incomes of businesses. The Business Profits War Tax Act of 1916 required all Canadian corporations having $50,000, or more, in capital to file a yearly tax return.

Personal income tax, introduced under the Income War Tax Act of 1917, was conceived -- like the other wartime taxes -- as a temporary measure. This act both expanded the scope of the Business Profits War Tax and introduced a tax based on yearly income to most Canadians. Those individuals who were exempt from the tax included the Governor General, foreign consuls, and those who were on active service overseas. Married Canadians with an income below $2,000, or unmarried Canadians with an income below $1,000 were also exempt from filing a tax return. Under the Income War Tax Act, eligible tax payers that did not submit a tax return were fined $100 per day with a maximum penalty of $10,000. This was an incredible fine considering, for example, that an annual married income of $3,000 was only expected to pay $20 in income tax!

Not Enough Hours in a Day: Daylight Savings Time

"Spring Forward" and "Fall Back" are two phrases that almost all Canadians from school-age are familiar with today. While there are some who take issue with this bi-annual ritual, for most Canadians the extra summer daylight is worth the minor inconvenience of the changing clock either ahead, or back one hour. Over eighty years ago, however, the federal legislation introduction of Daylight Savings Time created a temporal tempest across the nation.

The addition of an hour to extend daylight during the summer months was not a new idea to Canadians. In the decade leading up to the War and in the early years of the conflict, various Canadian provinces experimented with Daylight Savings Time. Generally, urban Canadians who were employed in factories and offices enjoyed the idea of having an extra hour of daylight for chores or relaxation. On the other hand, rural Canadians felt that the change disrupted their daily routine impacting negatively on the habits of both farm workers and their livestock. Executives of railway companies, who were advocates of the well-regulated efficiency of Standard Time, also were not too enthusiastic over changing the clock twice a year.

The Act to Provide for the Time in Canada Being in Advance of the Accepted Standard Time During the Summer Months, passed in the spring of 1918, was an attempt to standardize the piecemeal adoption of Daylight Savings across the country. The act affected all provinces, Dominion Government offices and Dominion parliamentary proceedings. Furthermore, the act gave the Board of Railway Commissioners the power to implement an advance of one hour to the Standard Time for the nation's private and government railways. Many fascinating letters condoning and criticizing the Dominion Government's legislation exist in the holdings of Library and Archives Canada providing an aperçu of the eclectic pursuits and concerns of Canadians during the Great War.

What's In a Name? Berlin to Kitchener

Those who live in, or have the chance to visit, Kitchener, Ontario will be very familiar with the area's rich German culture and heritage. The original settlers of the region were of an agrarian, pacificist Mennonite background. By the eve of the First World War, Berlin, Ontario -- dubbed "the German Capital of Canada" -- boasted myriad German-language societies, German language instruction in schools, and a German-language newspaper. As the Great War continued, the loyalty of German-Canadians became more and more suspect. In August 1914, the bronze bust of Kaiser Wilhelm, proudly displayed in Victoria Park, was removed and thrown into the lake. Open mistrust of enemy aliens in the city led to the suspension of German-language instruction in schools.

In 1916, the Berlin Board of Trade made a suggestion that polarized the citizens of the city. The Board of Trade argued that the name Berlin hurt business and gave the impression that its citizens were sympathizers of the enemy cause in Europe. It was suggested that the act of changing the name of the city would be a tangible symbol of its citizens' patriotism and would boost the city's profile across the Dominion. Many Berliners supported maintaining the name of the city, as it reflected a proud tradition of growth and prosperity for German, and non-German, Canadians alike. Those citizens who supported the status quo were immediately perceived, by those who wanted change, as being unpatriotic and sympathizers with the enemy. Violence, riots and intimidation, often instigated by imperialistic members of the 118th Battalion, were not uncommon in the months leading up to the May 1916 referendum on the issue.

A majority of Berliners did chose to opt for a new name and by early summer the search for a new city moniker was on. A special committee was set-up by the city council with the express purpose to suggest possible names. On September 1, 1916, the name of Kitchener was officially adopted after the late Lord Kitchener.

Horatio Kitchener was appointed Secretary for War by the British Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, at the beginning of the Great War. His image, beckoning recruits with an outward stare and finger pointed, was immortalized on Alfred Leete's dramatic poster "Britons Want You!" Kitchener had drowned earlier in 1916, when the ship he was travelling on hit a mine near the Orkney Islands. It would be next to impossible for citizens of the new Kitchener to be considered unpatriotic.

Nonetheless, some Canadians did not readily adopt the new name for Berlin. The Post Office had to issue memoranda, reminding correspondents that there was no city in Ontario named Berlin. The issue was so contentious that several Canadian municipalities petitioned the Dominion Government to force those who did not comply to use the name Kitchener. Although ludicrous to modern eyes, the whole issue of a name for Berlin highlights the effects that fear, hatred and nationalism can have upon a society in the face of war.