*Canada’s Wars has been nominated for the Ontario Library Association White Pine Non-Fiction Award for 2012*
*Nominated for the Hackmatack Readers’ Choice Non-Fiction Award 2012*
*Starred review in the Children’s Book Information Centre’s annual guide, Best Books, 2011*
Although Canadians often think of their country as the very opposite of warlike, the truth is that Canadians have fought in many wars over the years. Canada achieved nation status partly because of our participation in wars. And we earned our place in the world by fighting oppression. In Canada’s Wars: An Illustrated History, Jonathan Webb tells the story of the many battles in which Canadians have played a significant part.
Webb begins the story with the expedition mounted by the British general, Garnet Wolsely, to rescue the luckless General Gordon in Khartoum in 1884. Wolsely reckoned the fastest way to get there was by boat down the Nile River and he called on Canadian voyageurs to assist him. They didn’t see fighting but were instrumental in helping the British soldiers to reach their destination.
Canadians did fight alongside the British in the Boer War at the beginning of the twentieth century. They were instrumental in overruning Boer lines in the Battle of Paardberg Drift. After the first year, when the Boers switched from fighting conventional battles to guerrilla tactics, Canadian cavalry played a continuing role. The Strathcona Horse, now an armoured regiment, had its orgins in this conflict.
Canada came of age as a nation largely because of the enormous achievements made by Canadian soldiers in the First World War. Webb tells the story of the terrible sacrifices made by Canadians on the western front, from the Second Battle of Ypres to Passchaendale. And he describes their triumph in the final weeks of the war as Canadian troops spearheaded the drive toward Germany. Armistice was declared when the Canadians had entered the Belgian city of Mons – where the first bloody engagement had been fought four years before.
Prime Minister Mackenzie King had met with Hitler. He knew that there was a risk that Hitler would precipitate another world war. But Canada still was unprepared when war broke out in September 1939. Webb describes the scramble to mobilize the men and women who would make up the enormous fighting machine that ultimately contributed to the liberation of Europe: an air force that did not previously exist; four divisions of infantry and one of armour; and a navy that by war’s end was the fourth-largest in the world. A million men and women wore Canadian uniform in the Second World War. In a number of theatres they made an enormous difference. But, in many cases, only after some hard lessons had been learned.
Webb traces the dissolution of colonial empires and the origins of the Cold War that followed the conclusion of hostilities in 1945. Canada’s role as a peacekeeper in hotspots around the world, from the Congo to Cyprus and the Middle East is described. Some less well-known stories are also explored, such as the unofficial participation by as many as 20,000 Canadians in the Vietnam War. And then the failure of peacekeeping and the emerging role of Canada as a peace-enforcer, from Somalia to the Gulf Wars and Afghanistan, all are described.
Canada’s Wars is beautifully illustrated with archival materials and contemporary photographs. In its pages, Webb provides a broad outline of a large subject to which he has added a multitude of colourful, often little-known stories of individual exploits and brave achievements. This is not a celebration of war, but a celebration of the men and women who have felt compelled to fight for what they, and we as Canadians, believe in.