Photo: CP/National Archives of Canada

Canada, early 1914: it was the most promising of times, it was the most precarious of times. Conservative Prime Minister Robert Borden (above), who would lead the nation through the First World War, had been in power for a little more than two years. Despite the 1910 formation of the Royal Canadian Navy during the Liberal reign of Wilfrid Laurier, Borden argued that Canada should instead financially support Britain in its ongoing naval arms race with Germany.

Although many Canadians were sharply aware of European tensions, the dominion had its own concerns and distractions, not the least of which was the elephant to the south — mounting American economic and demographic influence. A prevailing sentiment in Canada, however, had been voiced best by Laurier in 1904: that although the 19th century belonged to America, “Canada … shall fill the 20th century.”

Many elements of Canadian society were strongly predicated on militarism. Scouts programs and hockey, for example, were considered fine training for war. Even certain nationalist groups, including a large number of French Canadians, were not so much against fighting for the British Empire as they were against leaving Canada to do so.

The possibility of war across the Atlantic was palpable, yet it was all but incomprehensible that in less than six months there would begin a 4½-year-long industrialized war that would kill millions.

Click here to view Canada at War: A timeline to the beginning of WWI