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Banner: From Colony to Country: A Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History


Canadian Military History: An Overview
War of 1812
Rebellions of 1837 and 1838
Northwest Campaign
South African War
First World War
Second World War


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South African War

The South African War, 1899-1902, was fought between the Boer Republics in South Africa (the Orange Free State and the Transvaal) and Great Britain, who requested military assistance from Canada and other members of the Commonwealth. The events leading up to this conflict are well described in the sources listed in this tool.

This war represented the first overseas conflict in which the new Dominion of Canada became involved. It generated divided feelings in the population -- between those who favoured loyalty to the British Empire, and those who felt that Canada's security was not directly threatened, and that to send troops would create a precedent for future action. Consequently, the themes of patriotism, protest and loyalty to Empire surface consistently in the literature.

Canadian troops participated and contributed to the eventual British victory and subsequent post-war activities. While 7000 to 8000 men and 16 nurses served, 200 to 300 died.

Nationally, the war was seen as a major event; the Statistical Year-book of Canada, 1899,1902-3 included a summary of military events "as the war in South Africa is a prominent event in the history of Canada.…" It impacted on the home front. While large crowds cheered the departure and return of Canadian troops, and volunteer projects engaged men, women, and often children, a direct result of involvement was an increased sense of independence within the British Empire and the beginning of a more developed armed forces organization.

"The chord of Canadianism had been set vibrating in every heart. Whatever other effect there may have been, a gain in national self-confidence was unmistakable."

Evans, W. Sanford. The Canadian Contingents and Canadian imperialism (1901). - P. 323

The centennial of Canada's involvement in the South African War has prompted a renewed assessment of this country's role. To support this and other research, a wide range of published primary and secondary sources exist in the collection of Library and Archives Canada. These include pamphlets, newspapers, books, theses, and government documents. These documents support research into the South African War specifically, and the general Victorian period in Canada as well.

Documents on the topic are found under a variety of subject headings when searching Library and Archvies Canada's catalogue, AMICUS or other library catalogues.

The Library of Congress Subject Headings (21st ed., 1998) and RVM (Répertoire des vedettes-matière, 9ième éd, 1983) used in many library catalogues, classify material related to this war under the following subject headings:

South African War, 1899-1902
Guerre sud-africaine, 1899-1902

However, information and publications can also be located under a variety of other terms such as those listed below:

  • Anglo-Boer Conflict
  • Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902
  • Boer War, 1899-1902
  • Second War of Independence
  • Afrique du Sud-Histoire-1899-1902 (Guerre sud-africaine)
  • Boers, Guerre des, 1899-1902
  • La Guerre d'Afrique du Sud
  • Guerre des Boers, 1899-1902
  • Guerre du Transvaal, 1899-1902

This list includes published Canadian primary and secondary sources relating to the period 1899-1902. Selected non-Canadian sources from the collection were included. Unless noted otherwise, all documents in this list can be located in the collections of Library and Archives Canada. Items marked with an (*) are also available in French.

The sections, "Bibliographic Reviews and Bibliographies" and "Overviews", can serve as introductions to the topic for researchers and other readers. Regimental histories can be located in the sources listed in the former. Of the titles listed in "Overviews", Painting the Map Red (Carman Miller; 1993) is the most comprehensive.

The sections, "Participation", "Women", "Media" and "The Political Milieu" include titles rich in personal data, as well as various military lists, that will facilitate research into biography and family history. Many first-person accounts of participants in the war, and those directly involved in making decisions related to it, are listed in these sections.


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