Ceremonial Guard stand watch over Canada's national memorial, The Response, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the foreground.

The military history of Canada comprises centuries of conflict within the territory, and interventions by the Canadian military in conflicts and peacekeeping missions worldwide. For millennia, the area comprising modern Canada saw sporadic conflicts among Indigenous peoples. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Canada was the site of several conflicts, including four major colonial wars between New France and British America. The conflicts spanned nearly 70 years and was fought between British and French forces, supported by their colonial militias, and various First Nations.

In 1760, the British conquered New France, and its civilians, whom they hoped to assimilate, were subsequently declared British subjects. After the Quebec Act of 1774, Canadians received their first charter of rights under the new regime, resulting in the northern colonies abstention from joining the American Revolutionary War and loyalty to British Crown. The US invaded in 1775 and again from 1812 to 1814 but were rebuffed each time. The threat of US invasion persisted into the 19th century, partially facilitating Canadian Confederation in 1867.

In 1871, the British Army withdrew from Canada, ceding defence responsibilities to the Canadian militia. In subsequent decades, the militia underwent changes that transformed it into a professional force. As a British dominion, Canada participated in the Second Boer War and the First World War. In 1939, Canada issued its first declaration of war, joining the Second World War in support of the UK and the Allies. Since then, Canada has shown support for multilateralism and internationalism through its peacekeeping efforts and participation in multinational coalitions, including the Korean War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, and the Afghan war.

Warfare pre-contact

Warfare existed in all regions and waxed in intensity, frequency and decisiveness. It was even common in subarctic areas that had sufficient population density.[1] However, Inuit groups in the extreme northern Arctic typically avoided direct warfare due to their small populations, relying on traditional law to resolve conflicts.[2] Conflict was waged for economic and political reasons, such as asserting their tribal independence, securing resources and territory, exacting tribute, and controlling trade routes. Additionally, conflicts arose for personal and tribal honour, seeking revenge for perceived wrongs.[3][4]

Indigenous weaponry on display at the Canadian Museum of History

In pre-contact Canada, Indigenous warriors relied primarily on the bow and arrow, having honed their archery skills through their hunting practices. Knives, hatchets/tomahawks and warclubs were used for hand-to-hand combat.[4] Some conflicts took place over great distances, with a few military expeditions travelling as far as 1,200 to 1,600 kilometres (750 to 990 mi).[4]

Warfare tended to be formal and ritualistic, resulting in few casualties.[5] However, some violent conflicts occurred, including the complete genocide of some First Nations groups by others, such as the displacement of the Dorset of Newfoundland by the Beothuk.[6] The St. Lawrence Valley Iroquois were also almost completely displaced, likely due to warfare with their neighbours the Algonquin.[7] The threat of conflict impacted how some groups lived, with Algonquian and Iroquois groups residing in fortified villages with layers of defences and wooden palisades at least 10-metre-tall (33 ft) by 1000 CE.[4]

Captives from battles were not always killed. Tribes frequently adopted them to replenish lost warriors or used them for prisoner exchanges.[8][9][10] Slavery was common among the Pacific Northwest Coast's Indigenous people like the Tlingit and Haida, with around a quarter of the region's population being enslaved.[10] In certain societies, slavery was hereditary, with slaves and their descendants being prisoners of war.[10]

Several First Nations also formed alliances with one another, like the Iroquois League.[11] These existing military alliances became important to the colonial powers in the struggle for North American hegemony during the 17th and 18th centuries.[12]

European contact

Skirmish between Martin Frobisher's men and Inuit, c. 1577–78.

The first clash between Europeans and Indigenous peoples likely transpired around 1003, during Norse attempts to settle North America's northeastern coast, such as at L'Anse aux Meadows.[13] Although relations were initially peaceful, conflict arose between the Norse and local First Nations, or Skrælings, possibly due to the Norse's refusal to sell weapons. Indigenous bows and clubs proved effective against Norse weaponry, and their canoes offered greater manoeuvrability in an environment they were familiar with. Outnumbered, the Norse abandoned the settlement.[14][15]

The first European-Indigenous engagements to occur in Canada during the Age of Discovery took place during Jacques Cartier's third expedition to the Americas from 1541 to 1542. Between 1577 and 1578, the Inuit clashed with English explorers under Martin Frobisher near Baffin Island.[15]

17th century

Firearms began to make their way into Indigenous hands by the early 17th century, with significant acquisition starting in the 1640s.[4] The arrival of firearms made fighting between Indigenous groups bloodier and more decisive,[16] especially as tribes got embroiled in the economic and military rivalries of European settlers. Unequal access to firearms and horses significantly amplified bloodshed in Indigenous conflicts.[17] By the end of the 17th century, Indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands and the eastern subarctic rapidly transitioned to firearms, supplanting the bow.[18] Though firearms predominated, the bow and arrow saw limited use into the early 18th century as a covert weapon for surprise attacks.[4]

Map of European claims on North America at the end of the 17th century, with European forts and settlements also shown. English claims are coloured in pink, while French claims are coloured in blue. The English and French had conflicting claims around Hudson Bay and Newfoundland.

Early European colonies in Canada include the French settlement of Port-Royal in 1605 and the English settlement of Cuper's Cove five years later.[19] French claims stretched to the Mississippi River valley, where fur trappers and colonists established scattered settlements.[20] The French built a series of forts to defend these settlements,[21] although some were also used as trading posts.[21] New France's two main colonies, Acadia on the Bay of Fundy and Canada on the St. Lawrence River, relied mainly on the fur trade.[22] These colonies grew slowly due to difficult geographical and climatic circumstances.[23] By 1706, its population was around 16,000.[24][25][26] By the mid-1700s, New France had about one-tenth of the population of the British Thirteen Colonies to the south.[27][28] In addition to the Thirteen Colonies, the English chartered seasonal fishing settlements in Newfoundland Colony and claimed Hudson Bay and its drainage basin, known as Rupert's Land, through the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC).[29]

The early military of New France was made up of regulars from the French Royal Army and Navy, supported by the colonial militia.[30] Initially composed of soldiers from France, New France's military evolved to include volunteers raised within the colony by 1690. Many French soldiers stationed in New France also chose to stay after their service, fostering a tradition of generational service and the creation of a military elite.[31][32] By the 1750s, most New French military officers were born in the colony.[31] New France's military also relied on Indigenous allies for support to mitigate the manpower advantage of the Thirteen Colonies.[33] This relationship significantly impacted New French military practices, like the adoption of Indigenous guerrilla tactics by its military professionals.[15][34]

Beaver Wars

Main article: Beaver Wars

Algonquin, French, and Wyandot forces besiege a Mohawk fort during the Battle of Sorel in 1610.

The Beaver Wars (1609-1701) were intermittent conflicts involving the Iroquois Confederacy, New France, and France's Indigenous allies.[35] By the 17th century, several First Nations' economies relied heavily on the regional fur trade with Europeans.[36] The French quickly joined pre-existing Indigenous alliances such as the Huron-Algonquin alliance, bringing them into conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy,[36][37][38] who initially aligned with Dutch colonists and later with the English.[39] As a result, the primary threat against New France in its early years were the Iroquois, particularly the easternmost Mohawks.[40]

Conflict between the French and Iroquois likely arose from the latter's ambition to control the beaver pelt trade.[36] However, some scholars posit Iroquoian hegemonic ambitions as a factor, while others suggest these were "mourning wars" to replenish populations in the wake of the epidemic that afflicted Indigenous peoples. Regardless, Iroquois hostilities against First Nations of the St. Lawrence Valley and Great Lakes disrupted the fur trade and drew the French into the wider conflict.[15]


Iroquois warriors attack an Algonquin fort defended by a Franco-Indigenous force at the Battle of Long Sault, 1660

Initially, the French offered limited support to their Indigenous allies, providing iron arrowheads and knives, but few firearms.[15][41] Although France's Indigenous allies saw some success, the Iroquois gained the initiative after adopting tactics that integrated Indigenous hunting skills and terrain knowledge with firearms acquired from the Dutch.[42] Access to firearms proved decisive, enabling the Iroquois to wage an effective guerrilla war.[36]

After depleting the beaver population within their lands, the Iroquois launched several expansionist campaigns, raiding the Algonquin in the Ottawa Valley and attacking the French in the 1630s and 1640s.[36] These attacks caused the dispersion of the Neutral, Petun, and Huron Confederacy, along with the systematic destruction of Huronia.[15][36] The string of Iroquois victories isolated the French from their Algonquin allies and left its settlements defenceless. Exploiting this, the Iroquois negotiated a favourable peace, requiring French Jesuits and soldiers to relocate to Iroquois villages so they could aid in their defence.[15]

Hostilities resumed between the two sides in 1658 when the French withdrew their Iroquois missions.[15] After years of expansionist campaigns in the mid-1650s, the outbreak of a wider front in 1659 and 1660 strained the Confederacy.[36] To secure a favourable peace, the French sent the Carignan-Salières Regiment in 1665,[15] the first uniformed professional soldiers station in Canada, and whose members formed the core of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine militia.[43] The regiment's arrival led the Iroquois to agree to peace in 1667.[15]


New France's governor general, Louis de Buade de Frontenac, with First Nations allies, 1690

After the 1667 peace, the French formed alliances with First Nations further west, most of whom conflicted with the Iroquois. The French provided them with firearms and encouraged them to attack the Iroquois. They also solidified ties with the Abenaki in Acadia, who were harassed by the Iroquois. Conflict resumed in the 1680s when the Iroquois targeted French coureurs de bois and the Illinois Confederation, a French ally. French-allied expeditions were launched in 1684 and 1687, though only the latter saw some success.[15][44]

In 1689, the Iroquois launched new attacks, including the Lachine massacre, to support their English allies during the Nine Years' War and in retaliation for the 1687 expedition.[36] However, after a flurry of raids by France's western allies and a Franco-Indigenous expedition led by Governor General Louis de Buade de Frontenac in 1696, the weakened Iroquois opted to negotiate peace.[36] The Great Peace of Montreal was signed in 1701 between the Iroquois, France, and 38 other First Nations. The terms saw the Iroquois agree to remain neutral in Anglo-French conflicts in return for trade benefits. This weakened the Covenant Chain between the Iroquois and English and weakened their trading relationship.[44] Although the Iroquois nations expanded their territories during the conflict, they did not achieve the prosperity initially envisioned.[36]

Early British-French colonial hostilities

English-French hostilities over colonial interests first escalated in 1613 when Samuel Argall and his sailors destroyed the French settlement of Port-Royal to secure the Bay of Fundy fisheries for the English colony of Virginia. Facing little resistance, the settlement was razed.[45]

In the Anglo-French War of 1627 to 1629, the English authorized David Kirke to settle Canada and conduct raids against the French there. In 1628, Kirke's forces seized a French supply fleet and Tadoussac, and captured Quebec City the next year.[46] Scottish settlers founded settlements in seized French territories like Port-Royal and Baleine. However, French forces destroyed Baleine just two months after its founding in 1629.[47] In 1630, an Anglo-Scottish attack against Fort St. Louis, one of France's last remaining Acadian strongholds, was repulsed.[48] French settlements that were seized during the war were returned in the 1632 Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.[46][47]

Acadian Civil War

Main article: Acadian Civil War

Acadia fell into civil war in the mid-17th century.[49] After Lieutenant Governor Isaac de Razilly died in 1635, Acadia was split administratively. Charles de Menou d'Aulnay ruled from Port-Royal and Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour governed from Saint John.[50][51] Unclear boundaries overs administrative authority led to conflict between the two governors.[50]

Françoise-Marie Jacquelin defends Fort Sainte Marie with other supporters of Charles de Saint-Étienne de la Tour during the decisive engagement of the Acadian Civil War in 1645.

In 1640, La Tour forces attacked Port-Royal.[52] In response, d'Aulnay imposed a five-month blockade on Saint John. La Tour's forces overcame the blockade and retaliated with an attack on Port-Royal in 1643.[53] In April 1645, d'Aulney besieged and captured Saint John, after hearing of La Tour's departure to meet his supporters in New England.[54] d'Aulney governed all of Acadia from 1645 until he died in 1650, having gained favour with the French government by informing them of La Tour's attempt to seek aid from the English in New England.[50]

After d'Aulney's death, La Tour returned to France and regained his reputation and governorship over Acadia.[53] La Tour's governorship ended in 1654 when English forces under Robert Sedgwick seized the territory exhausted by years of civil war and neglect by the French court.[50] Sedgwick seized Acadia to secure its fur and fishing resources for New England and The Protectorate, having been authorized to retaliate against French privateer attacks on English ships.[55]

Anglo-Dutch Wars

Further information: Anglo-Dutch Wars

Route of the Dutch fleet raiding North America from 1672 to 1674.

The Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667) resulted from tensions between England and the Dutch Republic, driven partly by competition over maritime dominance and trade routes. A year before the conflict, in September 1664, Michiel de Ruyter was instructed to retaliate against the English seizures of Dutch East India Company assets in West Africa by attacking English ships.[56] In 1665, de Ruyter's fleet raided English merchant ships and settlements in the West Indies and Newfoundland, including St. John's.[57][58] The peace treaty that ended the conflict resulted in the English returning Acadia to the French, a region they seized in 1654.[59]

During the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), in 1673, a Dutch fleet raided English colonies in North America, including fishing fleets and shore facilities at Ferryland on Newfoundland.[60]

Nine Years' War

Main article: Nine Years' War

During the Nine Years' War (1688–1697), English and French forces clashed in North America in a conflict known as King William's War. Initially, Governor General Frontenac devised an invasion plan aimed at conquering the Province of New York to isolate the Iroquois. However, the scale of the plan was later reduced. In February 1690, three joint New French-First Nations military expeditions were dispatched to New England. One attacked Schenectady, another raided Salmon Falls, while a third besieged Fort Loyal. New France also urged other First Nations allies to conduct smaller raids along the English American frontier and promoted scalpings as a form of psychological warfare.[33]

The batteries of Quebec City bombard the English fleet during the Battle of Quebec in 1690.

Having faced several attacks by New France's petite guerre,[61] the English launched two retalitory expeditions against New France.[33] The first naval expedition in 1690 was to capture Quebec City. However, it suffered from poor organization and arrived just before the St. Lawrence River froze in mid-October, leaving little time to achieve its objective.[62] After a failed landing at Beauport, English forces withdrew.[63] The second English expedition was repulsed at the Battle of La Prairie in 1691.[33] The English also attacked Acadia, besieging Fort Nashwaak and raiding Chignecto, Chedabucto, Port Royal.[64]

Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville was tasked with attacking English fishing stations in Newfoundland during the Avalon Peninsula campaign,[65] and to expel the English from the island.[66] Setting sail from Plaisance, the French administrative capital for the island,[66] d'Iberville's squadron razed St John's in November 1696 and destroyed English fisheries along Newfoundland's eastern shore. Smaller raiding parties razed and looted remote English hamlets and seized prisoners.[67] In four months of raiding, Iberville destroyed 36 settlements. By the end of March 1697, only Bonavista and Carbonear remained in English control. [68]

The Hudson's Bay Company garrison at York Factory surrendering to French forces following the Battle of Hudson's Bay in 1697.

During the war, the French strengthened their control over Hudson Bay. They had already seized several HBC forts in an expedition two years before the war. The French made two moves to capture York Factory, HBC's last remaining fort around Hudson's Bay, in 1690. The first failed and the second led to its brief capture before the English recaptured the fort. The French finally secured York Factory after the Battle of Hudson's Bay in 1697.[69]

The 1697 Peace of Ryswick ended the war, and required the return of territorial gains in North America. The HBC was also forced to surrender all but one fort on Hudson Bay. After the peace, the English and French reinforced their alliances and trade relations with Indigenous groups. It also paved the way for the negotiated peace of the Beaver Wars in 1701.[70][71]

English-maritime Algonquians conflict

The English-French conflict intertwined with an ongoing conflict between the English and maritime Algonquians. Shortly before King William's War, the maritime Algonquians attacked several English settlements in retaliation for English encroachment on their territory. French missionaries and settlers living in Indigenous villages leveraged Algonquian-Anglo hostilities to the advantage of France. The French sabotaged peace talks in 1693 between the English and maritime Algonquians, who encouraged their Indigenous allies to continue fighting. The French also encouraged the Abenaki and Mi'kmaq to engage in privateering and as buccaneers in the French Navy, taking part in the naval battle off St. John and the second siege of Pemaquid in 1696.[33]

18th century

Further information: French and Indian Wars, Second Hundred Years' War, and Sixty Years' War

Map of European claims on North America from the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 to the Treaty of Paris in 1763, with European forts and settlements also shown. British claims are in pink, while French claims are in blue. Purple areas were territories the French ceded to the British in 1713.

During the 18th century, the British–French struggle in Canada intensified as the rivalry worsened in Europe.[72] The French government increased its military spending in its North American colonies, maintaining expansive garrisons at remote fur trading posts, improving the fortifications in Quebec City, and constructing a new fortified town on Île Royale, Louisbourg, dubbed the "Gibraltar of the North" or the "Dunkirk of America."[73]

New France and the New England Colonies engaged in three wars during the 18th century.[72] The first two of these conflicts, Queen Anne's War and King George's War, stemmed from broader European conflicts—the War of the Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession. The final conflict, the French and Indian War, began in the Ohio Valley, and evolved into the Seven Years' War. During this period, the Canadien petite guerre tactics ravaged northern towns and villages of New England and travelled as far south as Virginia and the Hudson Bay shore.[74][75]

War of Spanish Succession

Main article: War of Spanish Succession

Hostilities between the British and French during the War of Spanish Succession extended to their North American colonies in a conflict known as Queen Anne's War (1702–1713). The conflict primarily focused on Acadia and New England, as Canada and New York informally agreed to remain neutral. Initially neutral, the French-aligned Abenaki were drawn into the conflict due to English hostilities.[33]

The New England raid on Grand Pré in June 1704. The raid was carried out in retaliation for an earlier New French-First Nations raid on Deerfield.

Raids between Acadians and New Englanders took place throughout the war, including the raid on Grand Pré in 1704 and the Battle of Bloody Creek in 1711.[76] The raid on Grand Pré, launched by New England forces, was in retaliation for a French-First Nations raid on Deerfield in the British Province of Massachusetts Bay. Similar raids in Massachusetts included the raid on Haverhill.[33] The French besieging St. John's in 1705 and captured the city after a battle in 1709.[77][78] The French faced a significant setback when the British captured the Acadian capital of Port-Royal after besieging it three times during the conflict. Despite repelling two sieges in 1707, Port-Royal fell to the British during the third siege in 1710.[79] Building on their success in Acadia, the British initiated the Quebec Expedition to capture the colonial capital of New France. However, the expedition was abandoned when its fleet was wrecked by the waters of the St. Lawrence River.[77]

The ensuing Peace of Utrecht saw the French surrender substantial North American territory. This included returning Hudson Bay lands to the HBC and relinquishing claims to Newfoundland and Acadia, though retaining fishing rights in parts of Newfoundland.[80] However, due to a dispute over the size of Acadia, the French maintained control over its western portion (present-day New Brunswick).[81] The French also continued its relationship with the Abenaki and Mi'kmaq in Acadia and encouraged them to attack the British.[33] After the conflict, the French built the Fortress of Louisbourg to protect its remaining Acadian settlements on Île-Royale and Île Saint-Jean,[81] while the British quickly built new outposts to secure its Acadian holdings.[33]

Father Rale's War

Main article: Father Rale's War

Although British-French hostilities ended in 1713, conflict persisted between the maritime Algonquians and the British, with the Mi’kmaq seizing 40 British ships from 1715 to 1722.[33][82] In May 1722 Lieutenant Governor John Doucett took 22 Mi'kmaq hostages to Annapolis Royal to prevent the capital from being attacked.[83] In July, the Abenaki and Mi'kmaq initiated a blockade of Annapolis Royal, aiming to starve the capital.[84] Due to increasing tensions, Massachusetts Governor Samuel Shute declared war on the Abenaki on July 22.[85] Early engagements during the war took place in the Nova Scotia.[86][87] In July 1724, 60 Mi'kmaq and Maliseets raided Annapolis Royal.[88]

The treaty that ended the war marked a major change in European relations with the maritime Algonquians, as it granted the British the right to settle in traditional Abenaki and Mi'kmaq lands.[33] The treaty was also the first formal recognition by a European power that its control over Nova Scotia was dependent on negotiation with its Indigenous inhabitants. The treaty was invoked as recently as 1999 in the Donald Marshall case.[89]

Fox Wars

Main article: Fox Wars

The Fox Wars, was an intermittent conflict from 1712 to the 1730s between New France and its Indigenous allies against the Meskwaki.[15][90] The conflict highlighted how the New French military, supported by its allies, was able to inflict significant losses against enemies thousands of kilometres away from its Canadian core.[90]

In response to Meskwaki raids on coureurs de bois and indigenous allies, particularly the Illinois, New French troops were deployed westward in 1716 to confront the Meskwaki. Despite initial success in forcing them to seek peace, the attacks continued. With diplomatic efforts failing in the 1720s, New France resolved to exterminate the Meskwaki. Subsequent campaigns, including an Illinois-led siege in 1730, led to the death or enslavement of many Meskwaki. A final punitive expedition by New France to present-day Iowa in 1735 failed due to lack of support from Indigenous allies, who deemed the Meskwaki adequately punished.[15]

War of Austrian Succession

Main article: War of Austrian Succession

The French-Mi'kmaq raid on Grand Pré in 1747

British and French forces clashed in the War of Austrian Succession, with the North American theatre known as King George's War (1744–1748). While maritime Algonquians swiftly allied with the French, many Indigenous groups in the Great Lakes region hesitated to join, preferring to maintain trade ties with the British. These ties were deliberately fostered by the British prior to the war to weaken France's Indigenous alliances.[33]

Throughout the war, Acadians and Canadiens raided frontier settlements in Nova Scotia, New England, and New York.[91] Attacks on Nova Scotia include those on Canso, Annapolis Royal, and Grand Pré.[92] French-Mohawk also attacked New England and New York, such as the raid on Saratoga and the siege of Fort Massachusetts. However, the Mohawk were unwilling to join French excursions deeper into New York to avoid conflicts with other members of the Iroquois Confederacy.[33]

The British siege of Louisbourg in 1745. The fortress was captured after several weeks.

In 1745, a British-New England force besieiged and captured Louisbourg.[93] The capture of Louisbourg significantly weakened Franco-Indigenous alliances around the Great Lakes by isolating Quebec City from France to interrupt trade. As a result, the price of goods skyrocketed and the French could not provide annual gifts to secure its alliances. This caused some Indigenous nations to end their support of the French war effort, with some nations viewing the absence of gifts as a breach of alliance terms.[33]The French Duc d'Anville expedition was launched in 1746, the largest military expedition to sail from Europe for the Americas at the time, aiming to recapture Louisbourg. However, it failed due to adverse weather and illness among troops before reaching Nova Scotia.[94]

Although Louisbourg was captured, the British were unable to advance further into New France,[91] with a British advance at Port-la-Joye being defeated in 1746.[33] The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war in 1748, returning control of Louisbourg to the French in exchange for some wartime territorial gains in the Low Countries and India.[91] The return of Louisbourg to the French outraged New Englanders. In response to the continued French presence, the British founded the military settlement of Halifax and built Citadel Hill in 1749.[95]

Father Le Loutre's War

Main article: Father Le Loutre's War

The Royal Navy capture of the French ships Alcide and Lys in 1755. The ships were carrying war supplies to the Acadians and Mi'kmaq.

Father Le Loutre's War (1749–1755) occurred in Acadia and Nova Scotia, pitting the British and New Englanders, led by figures like John Gorham and Charles Lawrence,[96] against the Mi'kmaq and Acadians, under the leadership of French priest Jean-Louis Le Loutre.[97] Throughout the conflict, Mi'kmaq and Acadians attacked British fortifications and newly established Protestant settlements in Nova Scotia to hinder British expansion and aid France's Acadian resettlement scheme.[98]

After Halifax was established by the British, the Acadians and Mi'kmaq attacked Chignecto,Grand-Pré, Dartmouth, Canso, Halifax and Country Harbour.[99] The French erected forts at present-day Saint John, Chignecto and Fort Gaspareaux. The British responded by attacking the Mi'kmaq and Acadians at Mirligueche, Chignecto and St. Croix,[100] and building forts in Acadian communities at Windsor, Grand-Pré, and Chignecto.[101] The conflict ended with the defeat of the British victory at the Battle of Fort Beauséjour.[101]

The war saw Atlantic Canada experience unprecedented fortification building and troop deployments.[97] The region also saw unprecedented population movement, with Acadians and Mi'kmaq leaving Nova Scotia in an exodus to the neighbouring French colonies of Île Saint-Jean and Île Royale.[102]

Seven Years' War

Main article: French and Indian War

The Braddock Expedition defends itself against an ambush by First Nations, Canadien militiamen, and French marines at the Battle of the Monongahela in Ohio Country, 1754.

New French-British colonial hostilities culminated in the Seven Years' War. Although formal hostilities between France and Britain began in 1756, fighting erupted in North America in 1754 in what became known as the French and Indian War (1754–1760).[103] Disputes over the Ohio Country prompted the French to construct a series forts in 1753, sparking hostilities with neighbouring British colonies in 1754.[104] Most First Nations supported the French, largely due to their opposition to earlier British territorial policies. The British worked to undermine the Franco-Indigenous alliances by seeking the latter's neutrality through Iroquois intermediaries. The Iroquois Confederacy eventually entered the conflict as a British ally at the Battle of Fort Niagara in 1759.[33]

Early French success and Acadia

Raid on an Acadian village in Miramichi Bay during the Gulf of St. Lawrence campaign in 1758. The campaign was part of the forced removal of the Acadians from Acadia.

In 1754, the British planned a four-pronged attack against New France, with attacks planned against Fort Niagara on the Niagara River, Fort Saint-Frédéric on Lake Champlain, Fort Duquesne on the Ohio River, and Fort Beauséjour at the border of French-held Acadia. The plan fell apart as forces sent to capture Niagara and Saint-Frédéric abandoned their campaigns, and the Braddock Expedition sent to capture Duquesne was defeated at Monongahela by a New French-First Nations force.[103][105][106] Although most of the plan had failed, the army sent to Acadia was successful at the Battle of Fort Beauséjour.[103] After Beauséjour, the British worked to consolidate control over Acadia, neutralizing the Acadians military potency and disrupting supply lines to Louisbourg, starting with the Bay of Fundy campaign in 1755.[103][107] These campaigns resulted in the forced relocation of over 12,000 Acadians from Acadia during the war.[108]

In 1756, following the formal declaration of war between the British and French, the commander-in-chief of New France, Pierre de Rigaud, marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnial, devised a strategy to keep the British on the defensive and away from the populated areas of New France, like Canada. This resulted in French offensives like the Battle of Fort Oswego and Siege of Fort William Henry, and raids on British frontier settlements by the Canadian militia and First Nations allies. A small French army, supported by the militia and First Nations allies, effectively pinned down British forces at its frontier, prompting the dispatch of 20,000 additional soldiers to reinforce British America. Despite early success in tying down British forces, the French were hindered by limited resources, as most of France's army was engaged the Europe, unable to reinforce its colony.[103]

British conquest of New France

Main article: Conquest of New France (1758–1760)

The British burn the French warship Prudent and capture Bienfaisant during the 1758 siege of Louisbourg

In July 1758, the British renewed its offensive against New France, although its initial invasion force of 15,000 soldiers were defeated by a force of 3,800 solders near Fort Carillon.[109] However, in the following weeks, the French faced significant setbacks. The British captured Louisbourg after a month-long siege in June–July 1758 and destroyed the French supply stock at Fort Frontenac in August 1758.[103][110] During that time, the French were compelled to retreat from Fort Duquesne when some of their First Nations allies made a separate peace agreement with the British.[103]

Following these victories, the British launched three campaigns against Canada: the first two targeted Niagara and Lake Champlain, while the third targeted Quebec City. After the French repelled the latter invasion force at the Battle of Beauport, British commander Major-General James Wolfe opted to besiege Quebec City. The three-month siege culminated in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in September 1759, where French general Louis-Joseph de Montcalm led a numerically inferior force out of the walled city to face the British. The French were defeated, with both Wolfe and Montcalm killed in battle.[111][112]

Surrender of the French Army in 1760, shortly after the fall of Montreal.

In April 1760, the French launched a campaign to retake Quebec City, defeating the British at the Battle of Sainte-Foy. After the battle, the British withdrew into the walls of Quebec City's. The French besieged the city until May, when a British naval force defeated a French naval unit supporting the siege at the Battle of Pointe-aux-Trembles.[113] The arrival of the British Royal Navy left New France virtually isolated from France.[103] As a result, the remaining French Army retreated to Montreal and signed the Articles of Capitulation of Montreal on 8 September, marking the completion of the British conquest of New France.[114] A week later, the British made peace with the Seven Nations of Canada, followed by France's maritime Algonquian allies in 1761.[33]

British naval supremacy was pivotal in the war's outcome, facilitating the capture of Louisbourg and Quebec City and blocking French reinforcements to the colony. This led to significant territorial concessions by France in the Treaty of Paris of 1763, including New France. However, the war burdened Britain with a massive financial debt. The absence of the French military threat also emboldened residents of the Thirteen Colonies, who no longer needed to rely on the British for military protection against the French.[103]

Pontiac's War

Main article: Pontiac's War

After the Seven Years' War in 1763, rumours circulated of a First Nations offensive on the British frontier. An alliance of First Nations led by Odawa chief Pontiac aimed to expel the British from the Great Lakes and Ohio Country. The alliance was forced to lay siege to Fort Detroit after learning the British were aware of their activities. The siege prompted other First Nations aligned with Odawa to attack British outposts in the region.[115] In the conflict, a 300-strong battalion of French Canadians, led by former Troupes de la Marines, was raised and sent to Fort Detroit as part of Brigadier-General John Bradstreet's expedition.[116] Despite its early success, the resistance waned when Pontiac failed to capture Fort Detroit.[103]

Peace was eventually achieved through the distribution of traditional presents and the issuance of the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This proclamation established the Province of Quebec and the Indian Reserve, while also granting First Nations various land rights.[103][115] These measures were implemented to protect the First Nations while facilitating the peaceful, "gradual settlement" of the frontier. However, it inadvertently made Britain into an obstacle against the territorial expansion of the Thirteen Colonies, a role previously held by France.[115]

American Revolutionary War

Main article: American Revolutionary War

Members of the British 84th Regiment of Foot in Nova Scotia. The regiment was raised in the Canadian colonies for service during the American Revolutionary War.

After the Seven Years' War, the Thirteen Colonies became restive over taxes imposed by the British Parliament, with many questioning its necessity when they no longer needed to pay for a large military force to counter the French.[117] American frustrations intensified following the passage of the Quebec Act, which restored Catholic rights in Quebec, much to the ire of the anti-Catholic Protestant-based Thirteen Colonies. The act also expanded Quebec's territory to include portions of the Indian Reserve, such as the Ohio Country, long desired by British colonies like Pennsylvania and Virginia.[118] These tensions led to a political revolution in the Thirteen Colonies, and eventually, the American Revolutionary War (1775–1776), with American rebels aiming to break free from the British parliament, and assert their claim on the Ohio Country.[119]

Quebec and Nova Scotia

See also: Invasion of Quebec (1775) and Nova Scotia in the American Revolution

At the war's start, most people in Quebec and the Maritime colonies remained neutral, hesitant to join either the Americans or the British side.[120] Early in the war, revolutionaries launched a propaganda campaign in Canadian colonies, although it only attracted limited support. British attempts to raise a militia in Quebec also saw limited success, although they were able to rely on the French Canadian clergy, landowners, and other leading citizens for support.[118] The British received support from the Seven Nations of Canada and the Iroquois Confederacy, though the latter attempted to remain neutral due to an internal civil conflict in the confederacy.[115]

British regulars and Canadian militia shatter the American column in fierce street fighting in the Battle of Quebec in 1775.

In September 1775, American forces invaded Quebec, beginning with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga and the siege of Fort St. Jean near Montreal. The siege prompted Governor Guy Carleton to abandon Montreal for Quebec City. The Continental Army advanced towards Quebec City, where they were joined by Benedict Arnold's expedition. On New Year's Eve, they attacked the city but were repelled.[118][121] After the failed assault, the Americans besieged Quebec until spring 1776, when the Americans were routed by a British naval force sent to relieve Quebec. The Americans subsequently abandoned Montreal, and their remaining forces were defeated at the Battle of Trois-Rivières in June 1776. British forces, led by General John Burgoyne, pursued the retreating Americans out of Quebec into New York in a counter-invasion.[118]

Although the Canadien militia formed most of Quebec City's defenders during the invasion, they saw limited action beyond Quebec. British reluctance to deploy them elsewhere stemmed from uncertainty about their loyalty when faced with the French Army.[116] Five British provincial corps, augmented by additional unincorporated units and Loyalist associators, were raised in the Canadian colonies to assist in its defence and to harass the American frontier.[122] British First Nations allies, led by Thayendanegea, also conducted raids against US border settlements from 1778 to war's end.[115]

The American raid on Lunenburg in 1782. During the war, coastal communities in Nova Scotia were subject to raids by American privateers.

New Englanders attempted to incite a revolt in Nova Scotia but were defeated at the battles of Fort Cumberland in 1776 and St. John in 1777.[118][123] Although they failed to incite a revolt, Nova Scotia remained a target of American privateering throughout the war, with most coastal outposts being attacked.[118] Attacks like the 1782 raid on Lunenburg had a devastating effect on the colony's maritime economy.[124][125][126] American privateers seized 225 vessels departing from or arriving at Nova Scotian ports in total.[127] The French Navy also attacked a British naval convoy off Nova Scotia in July 1781.[128] Conversely, the British captured many American privateers off Nova Scotia's coast, such as in the 1782 battle off Halifax. They also used the colony as a staging ground to launch attacks against New England, as seen in the Battle of Machias.[129]


The revolutionaries' failure to seize the Canadian colonies and the continued loyalty of British colonists led to the fragmentation of Britain's North American empire.[130] Despite successfully defending Quebec and Nova Scotia, British military defeats in the Thirteen Colonies led to their surrender in 1781 and the subsequent recognition of the independent US republic in the Treaty of Paris of 1783.[131]

The emergence of a powerful neighbour fuelled suspicions in Canadian colonies against the US for decades. Over 75,000 Loyalists, comprising 15 per cent of residents in the Thirteen Colonies who supported the Crown, migrated north to the remaining parts of British North America.[118][131][132] The British also ceded Indian Reserve south of the Great Lakes to the newly formed United States. As the area included the traditional Iroquois territory, the British offered land in Quebec to the Iroquois, hoping to establish new Iroquois communities that would serve as a barrier against the Americans.[115]

French Revolutionary Wars

Main article: Newfoundland expedition

In 1796, during the War of the First Coalition, a naval expedition under Joseph de Richery planned to attack Newfoundland. However, de Richery opted to not attack the island's capital after his forces failed to unite with another naval squadron from Brest and the British mobilized its defences in St. John's.[133] Although St. John's was not attacked, de Richery's squadron disrupted the island's fisheries and razed Bay Bulls and Petty Harbour.[134]

19th century

A form of compulsory military service was established in the Canadas during the 19th century, instituted in Lower Canada in 1803 and Upper Canada in 1808.[135] The compulsory sedentary militia comprised male inhabitants aged 16 to 60 and was mobilized solely during emergencies. In peacetime, service involved a one to two-day annual muster parade.[136][137]

The role of the militia during the American Revolution and War of 1812 led to the "citizen soldier" becoming a unique symbol of adulation in 19th-century Canadian military culture. This veneration stands in contrast with the United States and other British settler colonies, and led to the "militia myth" in the 19th-century Canadian zeitgeist, a belief that it did not need a standing army for its defence, as it could rely on its inhabitants to mobilize into militias overnight. This belief created a tendency to ignore the need for rigorous militia training during peacetime.[138]

War of 1812

Main article: War of 1812

The surrender of a US garrison at Fort Detroit, after British regulars, Canadian militiamen, and First Nation warriors besieged the fort in 1812

Animosity and suspicion persisted between the UK and the US decades after the American Revolution.[139] The Napoleonic Wars exacerbated Anglo-American tensions, as the UK's naval blockade of France and the impressment of American sailors the British claimed were deserters, aggravated the US.[140] As the US lacked a navy capable of challenging the UK, an invasion of Canada was proposed as a feasible option for attacking the British.[139] Americans living in the western frontier also hoped an invasion would halt British support for Indigenous resistances in the American Northwest Territory.[139] Strong support for war from congressional war hawks and assessments from US officers, like Major General Henry Dearborn, over the feasibility of invading Canada led to the US declaration of war on the UK in June 1812.[140]

The American strategy focused on a vulnerable Upper Canada over the well-defended Maritime colonies and distant Lower Canada and its fortified capital. However, some preparations in Upper Canada were made before the war, due to the foresight of Major-General Isaac Brock.[140] At the war's start, Upper Canada's defences comprised 1,600 regulars, Indigenous allies, and Canadian units raised for the war, including the Provincial Marine, Fencibles, and militia groups like Captain Runchey's Company of Coloured Men.[140][141]

Death of General Isaac Brock, as the York Militia moves forward during the Battle of Queenston Heights in 1812.[142]

Believing a bold attack was needed to galvanize the local population and First Nations to defend the colony, Brock quickly ordered a British-First Nations siege on Fort Mackinac.[140] In August 1812, Brock's force moved towards Amherstburg to confront an invading American army in Upper Canada, only to find that they had retreated to Detroit.[139] The American retreat facilitated Brock's alliance with Shawnee chief Tecumseh and provided him with the excuse to abandon his orders to maintain a defensive posture within Upper Canada.[143] A British-First Nations force besieged and captured Detroit, providing them control over the Michigan Territory and the Upper Mississippi.[144][145][146]

In October 1812, a British-First Nations force thwarted an American crossing of the Niagara River at the Battle of Queenston Heights. However, the battle resulted in the death of Brock.[147][148] An American army sent to retake Detroit was defeated in January 1813, ending the threat of an American offensive into Canada that winter.[140] Despite the success of Brock's offensives, his death prompted the British to adopt a defensive stance. Governor General George Prevost prioritized conserving his forces, concentrating the strongest garrisons in Lower Canada. Conversely, Upper Canada was only reinforced when additional troops arrived from overseas.[140]


Loyalist Laura Secord warns the British of an impending American attack on Beaver Dams, 1813.

In April 1813, an American naval squadron defeated the British at the Battle of York, briefly occupying and burning parts of the Upper Canadian capital. They then captured Fort George on May 27. However, the retreating British regrouped and defeated American forces at the battles of Stoney Creek and Beaver Dams. The Americans retreated across the Niagara River in December after setting Fort George and Niagara ablaze. In retaliation, the British razed parts of Buffalo during the Battle of Buffalo and continued such reprisals into 1814, like the burning of Washington.[140][149]

The death of Tecumseh by US forces during the Battle of Moraviantown in October 1813.

Although the British successfully defended the Niagara Peninsula in 1813, they faced significant setbacks in the western frontier. The British-First Nations force failed to capture Fort Meigs, and the British lost control of the Upper Great Lakes after the Battle of Lake Erie.[140] After the naval defeat, British-First Nations forces in the American Northwest Territory were forced to retreat, but were pursued and ultimately routed at the Battle of Moraviantown.[150] Tecumseh's death at the battle fractured his confederacy and the alliance with the British.[151]

In late 1813, the Americans also sent two armies to invade Lower Canada. A British-First Nations force turned back a larger American force at the Battle of the Chateauguay in October 1813. The next month, a British force repelled another large American army during the Battle of Crysler's Farm.[140][152]


The final incursions into the Canadas took place in 1814. US forces crossed the Niagara River in July and captured Fort Erie. The American advance led to the Battle of Lundy's Lane. While the battle ended in a stalemate, the exhausted Americans were compelled to retreat to Fort Erie. The Americans successfully defended Fort Erie against a British siege, but the exhausted Americans retreated to the US shortly after.[140]

HMS St Lawrence, a first-rate ship of the line launched in September 1814. The St Lawrence provided the British an advantage in the latter stages for the battle for Lake Ontario.

In 1814, the British regained the initiative, securing control of Lake Huron after several engagements and establishing effective control over Lake Ontario with HMS St Lawrence, a first-rate warship that deterred American naval actions from its launch in September to war's end.[140][153] After the War of the Sixth Coalition, the British shifted focus to their conflict with the US. Lower Canada and Nova Scotia served as staging grounds for invasions. The force gathered in Lower Canada invaded northern New York but was repelled at the Battle of Plattsburgh in September. The force gathered in Halifax had greater success, capturing most of Maine's coastline by mid-September.[140]

Throughout the war, Nova Scotian communities purchased and built privateer ships to raid US shipping.[154] The Liverpool Packet, a notable privateering ship from Liverpool, Nova Scotia, captured 50 ships during the war.[155]

The Treaty of Ghent, signed on 24 December 1814, ended the conflict and restored the territorial status quo. However, fighting persisted into 1815 in areas unaware of the peace. The war fostered a sense of community in Canadian colonies and set the stage for Canada's future nationhood.[140] No side of the war can claim total victory, as neither fully achieved their war aims.[156] However, historians commonly regard the First Nations as the "losers" of the conflict, given the collapse of the Tecumseh's confederacy in 1813 and the British dropping their proposal for a First Nations buffer state in the midwestern US during peace negotiations.[157]

Pemmican War

Main article: Pemmican War

The Battle of Seven Oaks in 1816, fought between Hudson's Bay Company officials and Métis voyageurs trading with the North West Company

In 1812, the Red River Colony was established by the HBC despite opposition from the North West Company (NWC), who already operated the nearby trading post, Fort Gibraltar. In January 1814, the colony issued the Pemmican Proclamation, banning the export of pemmican and other provisions for a year to secure its growth. The NWC and local Métis voyageurs that traded with the NWC opposed the ban, viewing it as a move by the HBC to control NWC traders' food supply.[158]

In June 1815, Métis leader and NWC clerk Cuthbert Grant led a group to harass and steal supplies from the Red River settlement. In response, the HBC seized Fort Gibraltar in March 1816 to curb local pemmican trade. This led to the brief Battle of Seven Oaks in June 1816 when HBC officials confronted Métis and First Nations voyageurs. After the confrontation, Grant briefly controlled the area, prompting the HBC and Red River settlers to retreat to Norway House. HBC authority was restored in August when Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, arrived with 90 soldiers.[158]

British forces in Canada in the mid–19th century

A steam engine moving stones up the promontory of Quebec for the construction of the Citadelle of Quebec, 1827

Fear of an American invasion of the Canadas persisted for at least the next half-century, prompting the retention of a sizable British garrison in the colony.[159] From the 1820s to the 1840s, the British built up several fortifications to serve as strong defensive points against potential invasions, including the citadel and ramparts in Quebec City, Fort Henry in Kingston, and the Imperial fortress of Halifax.[159] The Rideau Canal was built to provide a northern waterway from Montreal to Kingston during wartime,[160] bypassing the St. Lawrence River, a waterway that was also the Canada–US border.[160]

By the 1850s, fears of an American invasion had waned, prompting the British to downsize their garrison. The Canadian-American Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 further alleviated concerns.[161]

Local levies and recruitment

The 100th (Prince of Wales's Royal Canadian) Regiment of Foot receiving their regimental colours from Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, 1859

The British Army levied and recruited from the local population to form new units or to replace individuals lost to enemy action, sickness, or desertion. Examples of this practice include the War of 1812, the Rebellions of 1837–1838, the Fenian Raids, and the Wolseley expedition.[162] British Army units raised in Canadian colonies during this period include the 40th Regiment of Foot, the 100th (Prince of Wales's Royal Canadian) Regiment of Foot, and the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment.

Several Canadians served in the British military during the Crimean War, with the Welsford-Parker Monument in Halifax the sole Crimean War monument in North America.[163] Alexander Roberts Dunn, the first Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross, earned the medal for his actions during the Charge of the Light Brigade.[164] During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, William Nelson Hall became the first Black Nova Scotian to receive the medal, having been awarded it for his actions at the Siege of Lucknow.[165][166]

Rebellions of 1837–1838

Main article: Rebellions of 1837–1838

Depiction of the Battle of Saint-Eustache in 1837, a decisive engagement during the first uprising of the Lower Canada Rebellion.

Two armed uprisings broke out from 1837 to 1838 in the Canadas.[167] Calls for responsible government and an economic depression in Lower Canada led to protests and, subsequently, an armed insurrection led by the radical Patriote movement. The uprising, which erupted in November 1837, was the more significant and violent insurgency between the two rebellions.[168] The other armed uprising occurred in Upper Canada shortly thereafter, its leaders inspired by the events in Lower Canada.[169]

The inaugural uprising in Lower Canada began in November 1837. British regulars and Canadian militia fought Patriote rebels in a series of skirmishes, including the battles of Saint-Denis, Saint-Charles, and Saint-Eustache.[170] The disorganized rebels were defeated, with their leadership escaping to the US. Following this, anglophone militias pillaged and burned French Canadian settlements. A second uprising in Lower Canada commenced in November 1838 with aid from American volunteers, but it was poorly organized and quickly put down. The Lower Canada Rebellion resulted in 325 deaths, predominantly among the rebels, while the British recorded 27 fatalities.[169]

The Battle of Montgomery's Tavern on 5 December 1837, the first confrontation of the Upper Canada Rebellion

The Upper Canada Rebellion, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, primarily comprised disaffected American-origin farmers who opposed the preferential treatment of British settlers in the colony's land grant system.[171] The first confrontation occurred at the Battle of Montgomery's Tavern in Toronto on 5 December 1837. Most rebels dispersed after the battle, although a small faction remained until Loyalist and Black Loyalist militias attacked the tavern three days later. Mackenzie later seized Navy Island, declaring it the Republic of Canada, but fled to the US after the rebel ship Caroline was burned by Canadian volunteers. The Upper Canada Rebellion resulted in three deaths—two rebels and one loyalist.[169] For the rest of 1838, Mackenzie's followers and US sympathizers conducted a series of raids against Upper Canada known as the Patriot War.

The rebellions led to the Durham Report, which recommended uniting the Canadas. The Act of Union 1840 united Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada and paved the way for the introduction of responsible government in 1848.[169]

Conflicts during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush

The influx of gold prospectors into the Fraser Canyon during the Fraser Gold Rush led to several conflicts between prospectors and local First Nations. The Fraser Canyon War in 1858 saw the Nlaka'pamux and prospectors clash at the start of the gold rush. The Nlaka'pamux attacked several newly arrived American prospectors in defence of their territory, prompting the prospectors to form military companies to carry out reprisals. Responding to the violence, the British formed the colony of British Columbia on August 2 and sent gunboats to the Fraser River to reestablish order. However, as British military capabilities in the region were limited, they were unable to quickly assert control, leading to open conflict on August 9. A truce was brokered on 21 August, and the arrival of a British contingent by month's end stabilized the area. Around 36 Nlakaʼpamux, including five chiefs, died during the conflict.[172]

The Chilcotin War was another conflict that broke out in the area in April 1864, when the Tsilhqot'in killed 21 prospectors and construction workers who crossed into their territory. The attacks sparked a month-long armed standoff in the British Columbia Interior, after a group predominantly made up of American prospectors marched from the colonial capital of New Westminster to quell the resistance in the Crown's name. The conflict ended with the mistaken arrest of a Tsilhqot'in peace delegation. Six delegates were convicted and hanged for murder, despite the Tsilhqot'in maintaining its actions were an act of war rather than murder. In 2018, the Canadian government exonerated the six individuals and issued an apology to the Tsilhqot'in, recognizing "that they acted in accordance with their laws and traditions" for war.[173]

American Civil War

Main article: Canada and the American Civil War

Anderson Ruffin Abbott in 1863. Abbott was one of many Canadians who volunteered with the Union Army during the American Civil War.

At the start of the American Civil War (1861–1865), the British Empire declared neutrality, although its colonies in British North America sold weapons to both sides of the war. Although some Canadian newspapers sympathized with the Confederate States of America due to its alignment with colonial "security interests," the vast majority of the 40,000 Canadians who volunteered to fight in the Civil War did so with the Union Army.[174][175] Most Canadians fought as volunteers, although some were coerced into service by American recruiters or "crimpers". By the war's end, 29 Canadian Union Army officers were awarded the Medal of Honor.[175]

Incidents like the Trent and the Chesapeake affairs strained Anglo-American relations.[176] The Trent Affair, the most serious incident of the war, occurred in 1861 when a US gunboat stopped the RMS Trent to seize two Confederate officials en route to the UK.[177] The British demanded an apology and the release of the passengers. War appeared imminent in the months after, with the British reinforcing its North American garrison from 4,000 to 18,000 soldiers.[177] However, the crisis abated after an apology was issued.[175] The Empire was also criticized by Americans for allowing its subjects, including those in Canada, to engage in blockade running. According to one historian, these actions undermined the Union blockade against the Confederacy and prolonged the war by two years.[176][178][179]

When the Union Army regained the initiative in 1863, Confederate agent, Jacob Thompson, was tasked with creating a northern front from Canada. With Confederate activities tolerated by Canadian authorities and citizens,[180] Thompson set up bases in Montreal and Toronto. His plans included raiding prison camps to free Confederate prisoners and attacking Union ships in the Great Lakes. In 1864, Confederate raiders from Montreal raided St. Albans in Vermont, but they were defeated and were subsequently arrested at the border by British soldiers.[175]

Fenian raids

Main article: Fenian raids

Volunteers of the Canadian militia who were mobilized during the Fenian raids in June 1866.

In the mid-1860s, Irish American veterans of the Union Army who were members of the Fenian Brotherhood, supported raiding British North America to force Irish independence.[181][182][183][184] The Fenians incorrectly assumed that Irish Canadians would support their invasion. However, the majority of Irish settlers in Canada West were Protestant, mainly of Anglo-Irish or Ulster-Scot descent, and largely loyal to the Crown.[181] Nonetheless, the threat prompted British and Canadian agents in the US to redirect their focus from Confederate sympathizers to the Fenians in 1865. Upon learning of the Fenians' planned attack, 10,000 volunteers of the Canadian militia were mobilized in 1866, a number that later increased to 14,000, and then to 20,000.[185]

The first raid took place in April 1866, as Fenians landed on Campobello Island and razed several buildings. The largest raid occurred on June 2 at the Battle of Ridgeway, where 750–800 Fenians repelled nearly 900 Canadian militiamen, largely due to the latter's inexperience. However, the Fenians withdrew to the US shortly after, anticipating additional British and Canadian reinforcements. In the same month, another party of 200 Fenians was defeated near Pigeon Hill.[185]

Members of the 50th Canadian Battalion engage the Fenians at the Battle of Eccles Hill in 1870

The threat of raids in 1870 led the government to mobilize 13,000 volunteers. Fenian raiding parties were defeated at the battles of Eccles Hill and Trout River in May 1870. In October 1871, 40 Fenians occupied a customs house near the Manitoba-Minnesota border, hoping to elicit support from Louis Riel and the Métis, but Riel raised volunteers to repel them. The US Army later intervened and arrested the Fenians, with the US not wanting to risk war with the UK.[185][186]

While the militia prevented the Fenian from accomplishing its goals, the raids exposed deficiencies in its leadership, structure, and training, prompting subsequent reforms within it.[185]

British forces in Canada in the late–19th century

By the mid-1860s, British North American colonies faced mounting pressure to assume their own defences as the UK sought to alleviate themselves of the cost of defending them and to redeploy troops to more strategic areas. British pressure and the American Civil War prompted various colonies to consider forming a single federation. Although some questioned the need to unite post-American Civil War, subsequent raids by Fenians made more people in British North America favourable to Canadian Confederation, which was eventually realized in 1867.[175][187]

Departure of British forces from Quebec City in 1871. British forces withdrew from most of Canada in 1871, several years after Confederation.

In 1869, American grievances over British transgressions during the American Civil War became an issue, as the US demanded payment for said transgressions. A British delegation, including Canadian Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, negotiated the Treaty of Washington in 1871 to settle the issue.[175] By 1871, most British North American colonies joined Canadian Confederation, and US grievances were settled. Consequently, British forces withdrew from Canada, except for Halifax and Esquimalt, where garrisons of the Pacific and North America and West Indies stations remained for reasons of imperial strategy.[188] The Royal Navy continued to provide for Canada's maritime defence, with the understanding that they would provide additional aid in emergencies.[189]

Canadian enlistment in British forces after 1871

Canadian enlistment in the British military continued after Confederation and the British Army's withdrawal in 1871. Several Canadians opted for British service over the Canadian militia, as the latter showed little interest in expeditionary combat.[190] The British Army specifically targeted Canadians for recruitment to replenish certain units, like the 100th Regiment of Foot.[162] Canadians continued joining the British Army's enlisted ranks into the First World War, with several thousand Canadians serving in British units during the conflict.[191]

The first graduating class of the Royal Military College of Canada in 1878. Cadets were recruited into the British military and the Canadian militia in the 19th century.

The British War Office also reserved officer commissions for Canadian "gentlemen and journeymen" to fill vacancies and bolster the British officer corps.[192] The recruitment of Canadians into the British officer corps was encouraged by the War Office as a way to promote military interoperability between Canada and the UK, and to make the Canadian government more amicable to the idea of its military participating in British overseas campaigns.[193] By 1892, about two-thirds of Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) graduates who received commissions opted to join the British military rather than the Canadian militia.[194]

By 1900, RMC graduates in the British military had participated in 27 campaigns across Africa, Burma, India, and China.[195] From 1880 and 1918, around a quarter of RMC graduates accepted commissions in the British military.[191] Recruitment of RMC officer cadets into the British military declined in the early 20th century due to efforts by Frederick William Borden, the Canadian minister of militia and defence. As a result, from 1911 to 1914, over half of all graduates pursuing military careers joined the Canadian militia rather than the British military.[192]

Canadian militia in the late–19th century

Further information: History of the Canadian Army

Uniforms used by the Canadian Militia in the late 19th century.

By the mid-19th century, the militia system in the Province of Canada was organized into two classes, sedentary and Active.[196] The sedentary militia, later called the "Reserve Militia," was the traditional compulsory militia mobilized solely during emergencies.[136][137] The Active Militia consisted initially of volunteer service battalions tasked with transport and operational duties.[196]

The Active Militia began as an unpaid voluntary service but evolved into a paid part-time service under the Militia Act of 1855, comprising the Volunteer Militia, the Regular Militia, and the Marine Militia. The Volunteer Militia included artillery, cavalry, and infantry units. The Regular Militia comprised former serving men eligible for emergency service through balloting. The Marine Militia consisted of individuals employed to navigate Canada's waterways.[136] In 1862, proposed legislation to enhance the sedentary militia ignited a debate over whether the colony should rely on a compulsory or voluntary service. Following the 1863 general election, a new Militia Act was passed, shifting the burden of defence to the Active Militia while also preserving the sedentary militia.[196][135] The militia system was adopted into the Canadian federation through the 1868 Militia Act.[135] After the British Army's departure in 1871, the Canadian militia shouldered the main responsibility for its defence.[136]

Members of the Yukon Field Force in Vancouver in 1898. The Yukon Field Force was a garrison of the Active Militia's Permanent Force.

The Active Militia underwent professionalization in the 1870s and 1880s, with the establishment of two professional artillery batteries in 1871.[197] The Active Militia expanded under the 1883 Militia Act, authorizing a new cavalry troop, an additional artillery battery, and three infantry companies.[136] These were intended to provide the professional backbone of the Permanent Force, a full-time "continuous service" component of the Active Militia.[136][197][198] While the Active Militia's professional elements grew in the 1870s and 1880s, its marine component dwindled, with the last marine militia unit disbanded in 1878.[136] The sedentary militia also fell into disuse during this period as annual musters became less frequent. By 1883, the sedentary militia was nearly non-existent, with the requirement for annual musters stricken from legislation.[135]

Nile Expedition

Main article: Nile Expedition

During the Mahdist War in 1884, the British requested aid from Canada for skilled boatmen to assist Major-General Charles Gordon's besieged forces in Khartoum.[199] The government's reluctance led Governor General Lord Lansdowne to dispatch only 386 voyageurs, commanded by Canadian militia officers.[200] This force, known as the Nile Voyageurs, served in Sudan and became the first Canadian force to serve outside North America.[201]

The Nile Expedition travelling by boat to relieve the siege of Khartoum

Arriving in Asyut in October 1884, the voyageurs transported 5,000 British troops upstream to Khartoum using wooden whaling boats. They arrived two days after the city's capture by Mahdist forces. Canadian militia officers overseeing the voyageurs took part in the Battle of Kirbekan weeks later, although the voyageurs themselves did not partake. After Kirbekan, the expedition withdrew to Egypt, departing in April 1885.[202] Sixteen members of the Canadian contingent died during the campaign.[201]

Late–19th century conflicts in western Canada

In October 1870, near present-day Lethbridge, one of the last major battles occurred between the Blackfoot Confederacy and the Cree known as the Battle of the Belly River. In the battle, Cree war party engaged a Piikani Nation camp but was defeated, unaware that members of the Kainai Nation and Piegan Blackfeet were also there. The Blackfoot's use of revolving rifles likely aided in their victory.[203] However their victory was pyrrhic, as their losses made them vulnerable to attack. Both sides lost as many as 300 warriors during the battle.[204]

Riel Rebellions

Main articles: Red River Rebellion and North-West Rebellion

The Wolseley expedition near Kakabeka Falls. The British-Canadian military expedition was undertaken in 1870 to retake Upper Fort Garry.

In the late 19th century, Louis Riel spearheaded two resistances against the Canadian government amid its efforts to settle western Canada and negotiate land transfer treaties with multiple First Nations.

The first resistance led by Riel, the Red River Rebellion (1869–1870), occurred before the transfer of Rupert's Land from the HBC to Canada. In December 1869, Riel and Métis settlers of the Red River Colony seized Upper Fort Garry to negotiate favourable terms for the colony's entry into Canadian confederation.[205] After an English-speaking settler was executed, a military expedition made up of 400 British regulars and 800 Canadian militiamen was organized to retake the fort.[205][206] Riel and his followers fled to the US before the arrival of the expedition in August 1870. Although they fled, the resistance achieved its major objectives, with the federal government recognizing the rights of the Red River settlers through the establishment of the province of Manitoba.[205]

The Battle of Batoche in 1885 was a decisive engagement during the North-West Rebellion where Canadian soldiers defeated a force of indigenous and Métis people.

In 1884, Riel returned from the US and rallied local Métis in the North-West Territories to press their grievances against the Canadian government. By March 1885, a Métis armed force established the Provisional Government of Saskatchewan, with Riel as president. A three-month insurgency, known as the North-West Rebellion, began later that month after Métis forces defeated a contingent of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) at the Battle of Duck Lake. The battle emboldened the Plains Cree under Big Bear, leading to attacks on Battleford, Frog Lake, and Fort Pitt.[207][208]

In response, the Canadian government mobilized 3,000 militiamen to quell the resistance.[209] General Frederick Middleton initially planned for the 3,000-person force to travel together by rail, but attacks at Battleford and Frog Lake forced him to send a 900-person force ahead of the main contingent. However, after the forward force was repelled at the Battle of Fish Creek, Middleton chose to wait for the rest of the contingent before successfully besieging Riel's outnumbered forces at the Battle of Batoche.[208][210] Although Riel was captured at Batoche in May, resistance from Big Bear's followers persisted until 3 June at the Battle of Loon Lake.[208] Canadian militia and NWMP casualties during the conflict include 58 killed and 93 wounded.[211]

20th century

Boer War

Main article: Second Boer War

Troops from the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry prepare to attack Boer position during the Battle of Paardeberg in 1900.

The issue of Canadian military participation in British imperial campaigns arose again during the Second Boer War (1899–1902).[212] After the British requested Canadian assistance in the South African conflict, the Conservative Party strongly advocated dispatching 8,000 soldiers.[213] Most of English Canada supported participation, while near-universal opposition came from French Canadians and other groups.[214] This split the governing Liberal Party led by Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier, who's political base comprised both pro-imperial Anglo-Canadians and anti-imperial Franco-Canadians. Despite Laurier's efforts to seek compromise and manage Anglo-French tensions,[215] he was pressured by his imperial-minded cabinet to deploy a token force of 1,000 soldiers from the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry.[215][216]

An additional two contingents were later sent to South Africa. The second comprised 6,000 volunteers from artillery batteries and two mounted regiments, the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the Canadian Mounted Rifles. The third contingent was Strathcona's Horse, a unit fully financed by The Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.[217] By late 1902, the Canadian Mounted Rifles had mustered six regiments for duty in South Africa. Many Canadians also served in the British Army's South African Constabulary.[218]

Canadian forces arrived in South Africa after the initial phase of the conflict, including the British setbacks of Black Week. However, they garnered praise for leading the final night attack at the Battle of Paardeberg, resulting in the Boers' surrender.[218][219] At the Battle of Leliefontein in November 1900, three members of the Royal Canadian Dragoons were awarded the Victoria Cross for protecting the rear of a retreating force,[220] marking the only occasion when a Canadian unit received three Victoria Crosses in a single action.[221] One of the last major battles involving Canadian units was the Battle of Hart's River in March 1902.[218] During the conflict, Canadian forces were also involved in maintaining British-run concentration camps.[222]

Injured Canadian soldiers and a nursing sister in South Africa during the Second Boer War, 1901.

Around 8,600 Canadians volunteered for service during the Boer War.[223] About 7,400 Canadians,[224] including 12 nursing sisters, served in South Africa.[218][225] Of these, 224 died, 252 were wounded, and five were awarded the Victoria Cross.[218][226] A wave of celebrations swept the country after the war, marked by many towns erecting their first public war memorials. However, the public debate over Canada's role in the conflict also strained relations between English and French Canada.[218]

Early 20th century military developments

An exhibit of infantry equipment used by the Canadian Militia, c. 1900s

Discussions about reforming the Canadian Militia into a fully professional army arose during the Second Boer War.[227] Lord Dundonald, the final British Army General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia, implemented reforms that granted Canada its own technical and support branches.[228] This included the Engineer Corps (1903), Signalling Corps (1903), Service Corps (1903), Ordnance Stores Corps (1903), Corps of Guides (1903), Medical Corps (1904), Staff Clerks (1905), and Army Pay Corps (1906).[229] Additional corps would be created in the years before and during the First World War, including the first separate military dental corps.[230]

At the turn of the century, Canada asserted greater control over its defences with the passage of a new Militia Act in 1904, appointing a Canadian Chief of the General Staff.[136] Additionally, control of the Imperial fortress of Halifax and Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard was transferred to Canada by the British military in 1906.[231] The Militia Act of 1904 also formally acknowledged the obsolescence of the sedentary Reserve Militia by removing the provision that designated male inhabitants of military age as members, replacing it with a provision theoretically making them "liable to serve in the militia".[135]

Creation of a Canadian navy

Further information: History of the Royal Canadian Navy

HMCS Rainbow in Vancouver, shortly after its recommissioning with the Canadian Naval Service in 1910.

Canada initially maintained a small fishing protection force under the Department of Marine and Fisheries but depended on the UK for maritime defence. However, as the British engaged in a naval arms race with Germany, it looked to its dominions to assist with Imperial naval strategy in 1908.[232] The Conservative Party advocated for Canada to contribute funds solely for the purchase and maintenance of Royal Navy vessels.[232] Some French Canadian nationalists opposed sending any aid, while others proposed establishing an independent Canadian navy capable of assisting the British when necessary.[232]

Prime Minister Laurier adopted a compromised position, leading to the creation of the Canadian Naval Service in 1910, later designated as the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in August 1911.[233] To appease imperialists, the Naval Service Act included a provision allowing the RCN to be transferred to the British in emergency cases.[234] The bill aimed to build a fleet of five cruisers and six destroyers.[235] The first two ships, Niobe and Rainbow, were somewhat outdated vessels purchased from the British.[236] However, the election of a Conservative government in 1911 led to a reduction in funding, although later increased during the First World War.[237]

First World War

Main article: Military history of Canada during World War I

A Canadian postcard from 1918 encouraging the purchase of Victory Bonds. It depicts a soldier standing in a poppy field and includes a line from the war poem "In Flanders Fields".

On August 5, 1914, the British Empire, including Canada, entered the First World War (1914–1918) as a part of the Entente powers.[238][239] As a dominion of the Empire, Canada had control over its contributions to the war effort.[238] During the war, Canadian military spending rose considerably, with its financing being supported by the introduction of income taxes and Victory Loan campaigns. Canada also sold munitions to Britain after it experienced a shell shortage, prompting the establishment of the Imperial Munitions Board.[239]

A total of 619,636 people served in the Canadian military during the war. Of those, 59,544 were killed and 154,361 were wounded.[239][227] The conflict provided Canada with a greater degree of autonomy within the British Empire and a modest diplomatic presence at the Paris Peace Conference.[239]

Canadian Expeditionary Force

Main article: Canadian Expeditionary Force

The Canadian Militia was not mobilized. Instead, an separate Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was raised for the conflict.[240] The CEF comprised infantry battalions and the Canadian Cavalry Brigade, with recruitment handled by the militia. Canada also established the Canadian Forestry Corps to harvest wood from France and Scotland for the war effort.[239]

Canadian forces repelling a German attack after a German poison attack during the Battle of Kitcheners' Wood, an engagement during the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915.

The first Canadian contingent departed for Europe on October 3, 1914.[239] The CEF's first large engagement was the Second Battle of Ypres from April–May 1915. At Ypres, Canadian soldiers withstood the first large-scale poison gas attack in history.[241] In September 1915, after Ypres, the Canadian Corps was formed with the arrival of the 2nd Canadian Division in France, consolidating the CEF.[242] The corps expanded with the 3rd Canadian Division joining in December 1915, followed by the 4th Canadian Division in August 1916.[242] The 5th Canadian Division, formed in February 1917, never fully formed and was disbanded in February 1918.[242]

In early 1916, Canadian divisions participated in local actions like the Actions of St Eloi Craters and the Battle of Mont Sorrel. The British Somme Offensive began on July 1, where on its first day, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was annihilated. Canadian divisions were deployed to the Somme in August 1916.[239] After the Somme Offensive, Canadian leaders advocated for the corps to operate as a unified force rather than being dispersed among different British units.[242] The Canadian Corps, comprising four divisions, was consolidated for the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a crucial phase of the Battle of Arras.[239]

Canadian troops advance up a road during the Battle of Cambrai in 1918

After Vimy Ridge, Canadian Lieutenant-General Arthur Currie assumed command of the corps. Under his leadership, the corps fought in the Battle of Hill 70 and the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.[239] In 1918, the corps was sent to Amiens to bolster the lines during the Hundred Days Offensive. Throughout the war's later stages, the corps earned a reputation as one of the most capable and esteemed formations on the Western Front.[227] Throughout this period, the Canadian Corps participated in key battles such as Amiens and the Cambrai.[239] The Canadian Corps' rapid advance from Amiens in August to Mons by the armistice on November 11th, is known as Canada's Hundred Days.[243][244]

Air and sea operations

During the war, the RCN primarily conducted coastal submarine patrols as part of the Atlantic U-boat campaign.[239] Canada suffered from several maritime disasters during the war. The Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917, when a ship collision involving a munition ship loaded with explosives caused one of the largest human-made explosions before the detonation of the first atomic bomb. The disaster saw 11,000 casualties, including 2,000 dead, and the entire north end of the city destroyed.[245] The sinking of HMHS Llandovery Castle by a U-boat in June 1918 marks the deadliest Canadian naval disaster of the war.[246]

Billy Bishop in a Nieuport 17. Bishop was the war's top flying ace from Canada and the British Empire.

Besides the Canadian military, Canadians served in British forces such as the Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps. By war's end, nearly a quarter of all Royal Flying Corps pilots were Canadian, including the Empire's leading flying ace, Billy Bishop.[239]


While there was an initial surge of enthusiastic volunteers in 1914, by 1916, enthusiasm to enlist waned.[239] At the 1917 Imperial War Cabinet, Britain urged its dominions to send more troops to address manpower issues resulting from the collapse of the Russian Empire and the French Army mutinies.[239]

Wishing to sustain Canada's military contributions, Prime Minister Robert Borden advocated for conscription in the 1917 Canadian federal election, sparking a national debate and crisis.[247][248] Borden's Unionist Party, a coalition of pro-conscription Conservatives and Liberals, won the election. They passed the Military Service Act, 1917, although numerous reasons for exemptions were included in its provisions.[239][249] After conscription was implemented in 1918, over 400,000 individuals were called up, although 380,510 appealed it. Ultimately, only 24,132 conscripts were sent to Europe.[239]

Conscription sparked mixed reactions, with English Canada generally in favour, while French Canadians, some English-speaking farmers, trade union leaders, pacifists, and Indigenous leaders opposed it.[239][250] The conscription crisis highlighted divisions between English and French Canada.[251]


Further information: World War I memorials

Edward VIII unveiling the Mother of Canada on the Vimy Memorial in 1936. The memorial was dedicated to CEF personnel killed during World War I.

The war's impact led to the construction of war memorials in Canada. The Canadian National War Memorial was unveiled in 1939 and has since been used to honour Canadian war dead for other conflicts.[252] The monument has since been used to honour Canadian war dead for other conflicts.[252] There are also eight memorials in France and Belgium to honour Canada's war dead from the war, like the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.[253]

Distinct memorials honour the contributions of Newfoundland soldiers, then a separate British dominion. The largest Newfoundland memorials include the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in France and the Newfoundland National War Memorial in St. John's.[254]

Interwar period

After the First World War, the Canadian Expeditionary Force dissolved, and its lineage perpetuated through the Canadian militia. In 1921, the Active Militia restructured, forming the Permanent Active Militia from Permanent Force, and the Non-Permanent Active Militia from its reserve component. The sedentary Reserve Militia's officer list was upheld, although it remainedunorganized. The National Defence Act of 1922 consolidated the Department of Militia and Defence with Air and Naval Services under the Department of National Defence.[136]

The greater degree of autonomy Canada saw after the First World War, coupled with public reluctance to participate in further imperial conflicts, led the Canadian government to refuse a British request for military aid during the 1922 Chanak Crisis.[239][255]

Intervention in Russia

Main article: Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War

Troops of the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force with a truck, 1919

The Canadian government sent around 6,000 soldiers to aid the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War in mid-1918 in response to a British request for assistance.[256][257] Around 4,200 soldiers were deployed to the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force (CSEF) stationed in Vladivostok, while another Canadian contingent joined the Allied North Russian Expeditionary Force in northwest Russia.[258] Canadian soldiers were deployed to northwest Russia in May 1918,[259] while CSEF was deployed to Vladivastok in October.[260][258]

Shortly after the end of the First World War, the King's Privy Council for Canada debated the continued military presence in Russia. A decision was made to extend the commitment until spring 1919, although they limited the use of its forces, requiring their explicit consent for their use.[258]

While some Canadians participated in combat in northwest Russia and as pilots over the Black Sea,[256] the majority of Canadian soldiers stationed in Russia, attached to the CSEF in Vladivostok, experienced minimal combat before their withdrawal.[261] CSEF soldiers began their withdrawal from Russia in April 1919.[258] The 16th Canadian Field Artillery Brigade withdrew from northwest Russia in June 1919.[262] In total, 21 Canadians died in the Russia intervention, the majority from disease or accidents.[258]

Establishing an air force

Further information: History of the Royal Canadian Air Force

The Canadian Air Force of 1918 at RAF Upper Heyford, with Sopwith Dolphins as part of the No. 1 Fighter Squadron

The First World War spurred the formation of Canada's air force. Initially, Canada lacked an independent air force, although many Canadians served with the British Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.[263]

In 1914, the Canadian government authorized the formation of the Canadian Aviation Corps,[264] tasked to accompany the Canadian Expeditionary Force to Europe with one aircraft, a Burgess-Dunne.[265] However, the corps was disbanded in 1915.[266] In 1918, the British Air Ministry established a Canadian bomber and fighter squadron in Europe, marking a second attempt at forming a Canadian air force. The Canadian government later assumed control of these two squadrons, forming the Canadian Air Force.[267] This air force, however, never saw service and was completely disbanded by 1921.[267]

During the 1920s, the British government urged Canada to establish a peacetime air force, offering surplus aircraft. In 1920, the Canadian Air Force (CAF) was created under the Air Board, serving as a part-time or militia service for flying refresher training.[268] After a reorganization the CAF became responsible for all flying operations in Canada, including civil aviation. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) took over civil flying responsibilities from the Air Board and CAF after its creation in April 1924.[264] The Second World War saw the RCAF become a true military service.[264]

Spanish Civil War

The Ikka Machine Gun Company of the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, c. 1937–38

The Canadian government officially remained uninvolved in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). However, over 1,500 Canadians volunteered to fight for the Spanish Republican faction. Most volunteers were recent immigrants, Communist Party of Canada members, and individuals forced into relief camp.[269] Canadian volunteers initially joined the British Battalion, the Lincoln Battalion, or the George Washington Battalion, with around 40 Canadians serving in the latter two.[269][270] In July 1937, the primarily Canadian Mackenzie–Papineau Battalion was mustered into the XV International Brigade.[269][271] The Canadian unit fought in five major campaigns, including the Battle of Teruel, the Aragon Offensive, and the Battle of the Ebro.[269][272] Around 400 to 721 Canadian volunteers died during the war.[269][273]

Second World War

Main article: Canada during World War II

See also: Military history of Newfoundland during World War II

Wait for Me, Daddy, taken by Claude P. Dettloff, in October 1940. The photo depicts the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own Rifles), marching to embark onto SS Princess Joan.

The Second World War (1939–1945) began on September 1, 1939, with Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. The Canadian declaration of war on Germany was issued on September 10, several days after the British and French.[274] Although Canada was a significant contributor to the war, it played no major role in its strategic planning, as Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King refrained from involvement. Initially, Canada anticipated a limited contribution. However, after the German invasion of Belgium and France, Canada escalated its military spending, expanded its armed forces, and introduced conscription for home defence by June 1940.[275] Like the First World War, conscription for overseas service was a divisive issue, with some English Canadians supporting it and French Canadians opposing it.[276] The Conscription Crisis of 1944 intensified as Mackenzie King was pressured to accept conscription for overseas service from his cabinet members.[275]

Hostilities ceased in September 1945. Canada participated in the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, and signed peace treaties with Finland, Italy, Hungary, and Romania. In 1951, Canada issued a royal proclamation to end the state of war with Germany, and signed the Treaty of San Francisco to end it with Japan.[275] Out of a population of about 11.5 million, 1.1 million Canadians served in the military during the war, with over 45,000 casualties and 55,000 wounded.[277]

Canadian Army operations

The Canadian Militia (renamed the Canadian Army in November 1940)[278] saw minimal action at the onset of the war, with the 1st Canadian Division only briefly deploying alongside the Second British Expeditionary Force during the fall of France.[279] In 1940, multiple Canadian units were stationed in the UK to defend it from a potential German invasion. Following the British withdrawal from Dunkirk, the 1st Canadian Division stood as one of the few formations in the UK completely intact in terms of equipment and manpower.[280][281]

Canadian soldiers on exercise in Hong Kong prior to the Japanese invasion of the colony in 1941

In December 1941, two Canadian battalions fought in the Battle of Hong Kong,[282] while the 2nd Canadian Division led the Dieppe Raid in August 1942.[283] In that year, the First Canadian Army was established and spent most of the year training for the northwest Europe invasion.[284]

In July 1943, the 1st and 5th Canadian Divisions took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily as part of the British Eighth Army.[285] The Canadians were also involved in the Allied invasion of Italy, facing intense combat in the Battle of Ortona and the Moro River Campaign.[286] In spring 1944, Canadian units, led by Lieutenant-General E. L. M. Burns, played a leading role in breaking through the Hitler Line. They later breached the Gothic Line after the Battle of Rimini. In total, 92,757 Canadian soldiers served in the Italian campaign, with 5,764 casualties.[275]

A landing craft with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles heads for Juno Beach during the Normandy landings in June 1944

During the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, the 3rd Canadian Division and the 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade secured Juno Beach.[287] Canadian airborne troops also landed earlier behind the beaches.[288] The Canadians played a leading role in the breakout from the Normandy bridgehead, like at Falaise pocket. Subsequently, the First Canadian Army cleared coastal fortresses in campaigns such as Operation Astonia.[275] From October to November, the Canadians fought a series of battles to secure the Scheldt River and open Antwerp to Allied shipping.[289]

In early 1945, Canadian units fought in the Siegfried Line campaign to clear a path to the Rhine River, facilitating further Allied offensives on the far side of the Rhine.[290] After the campaign, the First Canadian Army participated in the liberation of the Netherlands and the Western Allied invasion of Germany.[291] Around 237,000 Canadian soldiers served in North West Europe campaign in 1944 and 1945, among whom 11,336 died.[275]

Naval operations

Royal Canadian Navy sailors man a gun aboard HMCS Assiniboine, while escorting an HX convoy to the UK

During the war, the RCN expanded significantly, with 471 combat ships and a personnel of 99,688 men and around 6,500 women by war's end.[275] The navy was tasked with protecting supply and troop convoys from U-boat wolfpacks during the Battle of the Atlantic.[292] RCN warships sank 33 enemy submarines during the war. After the Atlantic Convoy Conference in March 1943, all Allied convoys north of New York City was coordinated through the Canadian Northwest Atlantic Command.[275]

In addition to the Atlantic campaign, the RCN participated in the Dunkirk evacuation, the Allied landing in North Africa, and the Normandy landings.[275][293] The navy lost 24 warships duing the war, the largest of which was destroyer HMCS Athabaskan.[275] The light cruiser HMCS Uganda also participated in the Pacific War as a part of the British Pacific Fleet.[294] In addition to the RCN, Canadians served with the Canadian Merchant Navy.[295]

Air operations

The RCAF also contributed to the war effort. However, its early numbers were initially constrained by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP), an agreement between the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to train aircrews.[275] Although Canada had agreed to host most BCATP facilities and fund three-quarters of its costs, the British expected graduates to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). However, intervention from Mackenzie King saw some Canadian BCATP graduates join the RCAF instead.[296] However, due to the earlier arrangement, many Canadian BCATP graduates served in RAF units like No. 242 (Canadian) Squadron RAF, rather than in an RCAF unit.[281][275] At its peak, there were 107 schools and 184 ancillary BCATP units across Canada. By the end of 1945, 131,553 pilots graduated from BCATP in Canada and flew with the RAF, RCAF or with other Allied air forces.[296]

Pilots of No. 1 Squadron RCAF in the UK, October 1940. The squadron was deployed to the UK in June 1940, shortly before the Battle of Britain.

While the BCATP initially delayed the deployment of RCAF units overseas, by war's end, there were 48 RCAF squadrons stationed abroad. These squadrons participated in key campaigns such as the Battle of Britain and the Combined Bomber Offensive over the European theatre.[297][275] By the war's end, Canadian airmen served in every major theatre, including North Africa, Italy, northwest Europe, and the Pacific.[298] RCAF squadrons based in Canada partook in the Aleutian Islands campaign and conducted anti-submarine operations in the Atlantic. Throughout the war, 232,632 men and 17,030 women served in the RCAF, with 17,101 dead.[275] By the end of the war, the RCAF was the fourth-largest Allied air force.[299]

Industry and research

Members of the Royal Canadian Air Force Women's Division. During the Second World War, women were recruited into the military to fill non-combat roles.

Canadian industries during the Second World War manufactured a variety of war materials, totalling 815,729 units, including small arms, warships, aircraft, and vehicles. Over half of Canada's output was sent to the UK, facilitated by the Billion Dollar Gift package. The labour demand led to many women entering the workforce for the first time, filling jobs left by enlisted men.[275] The Canadian Women's Army Corps and the RCAF Women's Division were created to relieve male military members for frontline duties.[300]

During the war, Canada aided British and American efforts to develop an atomic bomb. In 1942, Canada and the UK formed a nuclear research partnership, leading to the establishment of the Montreal Laboratory as a safe location for the British Tube Alloys nuclear program.[301] In the same year, the Canadian government purchased the Eldorado Mine to mine uranium.[275] The British and Americans agreed to cooperate on nuclear weapons development during the First Quebec Conference in 1943, and the Montreal Laboratory was absorbed into the Manhattan Project.[301]

Cold War

Main article: Canada in the Cold War

Further information: Outline of the Canadian Armed Forces at the end of the Cold War

A map depicting the early warning systems for North America. Three early-warning radar lines in Canada were built during the 1950s to detect incoming Soviet bombers heading for the continent.

The defection of a Soviet cipher clerk in Ottawa in September 1945, and subsequent allegations of a Soviet spy ring in Canada, marked the beginning of the Cold War in the country.[302] As a NATO founding member and NORAD signatory with the United States, Canada aligned itself with the Western Bloc against the Communist bloc.[303] During the 1950s, Canada joined the United States to erect early-warning radar systems, including the Pinetree Line, Mid-Canada Line, and the DEW Line, to defend the continent against Soviet attacks.[304]

As a middle power, Canada recognized its military constraints and adopted a policy of multilateralism. Consequently, its military contributions were contingent upon being part of a multilateral coalition.[305] Consequently, Canada opted to not directly involve its military in several conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, despite the involvement of close allies.[306]

Korean War

Main article: Canada in the Korean War

At the start of the Korean War (1950–1953), Canada quickly backed the establishment of a United Nations military force to liberate South Korea.[307] Canadian units in Korea were integrated into the larger British Commonwealth Forces Korea.[308] Canada initially contributed three RCN destroyers and the No. 426 Squadron, a RCAF military transport squadron, to support the war effort.[307][309] Eight RCN ships rotated duties in Korean waters during the war, protecting the UN fleet and supporting onshore operations.[307] In Korea, 22 RCAF fighter pilots also flew jets on exchange duty with the United States Air Force (USAF).[307][310]

Two snipers of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Korea during the Korean War.

Having undergone rapid demilitarization after the Second World War, the Canadian Army required several months to mobilize back to wartime strength.[311] Domestic pressure for a larger commitment led the Canadian Army to form Special Force (later renamed the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade) for deployment in Korea.[307] The first Canadian Army units arrived in Korea in December 1950, joining the conflict after its early campaigns and when the attrition phase began.[307][312] For army units, the war was characterized as a "war of patrols" in mountainous terrain. Battles the Canadian Army fought in include the battles of Kapyong and Kowang-san.[307]

Canada sent 26,791 troops to fight in Korea.[313] There were 1,558 Canadian casualties, including 516 dead.[314] Hostilities ceased with the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement.[315] Following the armistice, Canada stationed a garrison in the region to patrol the Korean Demilitarized Zone until 1955. The last Canadian soldiers under United Nations Command departed the region in 1957.[307]

Forces in Europe

Main article: Canadian Forces Europe

Members of the 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade, a brigade created for service in West Germany, disembark in Rotterdam, 1951

During the Cold War, Canada deployed its military abroad for the first time during peacetime, maintaining units in Western Europe from the early 1950s to 1993. Around 100,000 Canadian military personnel served in France and West Germany as part of Canadian Forces Europe.[316]

In adherence to NATO obligations, Canada formed the 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade (27CIBG), later designated as 4 Combat Group and 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, for service in West Germany.[317] It initially comprised 6,700 soldiers organized into several units, including three infantry battalions, an armoured regiment, and MGR-1 Honest John nuclear missile batteries. The brigade was reorganized following a 1970 defence review, losing its nuclear capability and reducing its size. By 1977, it transitioned from a frontline role as a part of the British commitment in northern Germany to a rear area reserve force in the south.[316]

In addition to the 27CIBG, Canada contributed two infantry battalion groups to NATO's quick reaction force, Allied Command Europe Mobile Force, in 1964. However by the late 1960s, the commitment was reduced to one battalion.[316] The Canadian Air-Sea Transportable Brigade Group (CAST), comprising 5,000 personnel, was another unit formed in 1968 to support Canada's European commitments. Though stationed in Canada, CAST was able to deploy to Norway within 30 days. CAST only deployed once for a military exercise in 1986 before disbandment in 1989.[316]

Two RCAF CF-100 Canucks from RCAF Station Grostenquin fly over Sardinia in 1962

In 1951, Canada formed the 1 Air Division to fulfil NATO air defence obligations.[318] Initially a day/all-weather interception squadron, its role shifted to nuclear strike and reconnaissance in 1962, and then solely to reconnaissance in 1966. The 1 Air Division initially comprised two wings in France and two in Germany, although RCAF assets in France were relocated to Germany after the French withdrawal from NATO in 1966.[316]

Unification of Canada's military

Main article: Unification of the Canadian Armed Forces

Canada began exploring military unification as early as the 1930s, with some elements, such as military colleges and administrative aspects, unified by the 1940s and 1950s.[319] In the 1960s, under national defence minister Paul Hellyer, Canada pursued full military unification to eliminate duplication of services and reduce costs.[320][321] In 1964, the National Defence Act was amended to establish a unified command structure, consolidating the three service chiefs into one Chief of the Defence Staff. The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act 1968 merged the Army, RCN, and RCAF into branches of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), with the three services ceasing to exist as separate entities.[319]

Hellyer's efforts to unify Canada's military were partly successful, with support services and headquarters commands being successfully unified, and some cost-cutting service consolidations praised. However, changes such as a unified ranking structure and service uniforms faced public and CAF personnel. Due to ongoing resistance from the army, air force, and navy, many of Hellyer's changes were reversed by 2014.[319]

October Crisis

Main article: October Crisis

A soldier in Montreal during the October Crisis in 1970

The October Crisis was instigated by the Montreal-based Front de libération du Québec's (FLQ) kidnapping of two government officials.[322] On October 15, 1970, five days after the second kidnapping, the Quebec government requested military aid under the National Defence Act, with soldiers deployed to strategic locations in Montreal hours later.[322][323] The following day, the federal government invoked the War Measures Act to confront the "apprehended insurrection," marking its only peacetime use.[322][324]

Under the War Measures Act, the FLQ was banned and civil liberties were suspended. Troops were deployed to Quebec until January 1971. Ultimately, 12,500 Canadian Forces troops were stationed in Quebec, with 7,500 in Montreal.[325][326] The federal government's use of the War Measures Act sparked controversy due to the unjust detention of the majority of those arrested. This played a role in its replacement with the more restrained Emergencies Act in 1988.[322][323]

Vietnam War

Main article: Canada and the Vietnam War

A POW is interviewed by a Canadian officer with the ICCS and a Provisional Revolutionary Government official in 1973.

Canada was a non-belligerent during the Vietnam War (1955–1975), serving as an "impartial and objective peacekeeper" on two international truce commissions, the International Control Commission and the International Commission of Control and Supervision.[327] Canada's military involvement in the conflict was minimal, with a small contingent deployed in 1973 to enforce the Paris Peace Accords.[328] However, Canadian diplomats covertly supported US counterinsurgency and espionage efforts in Vietnam, justifying these actions as a counterbalance to similar activities conducted by its Eastern bloc truce commission peers.[329] Canadian firms sold over $12.5 billion of war materials to the US during the war, including machinery, munitions, clothing, food, and raw materials. Testing of Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide used in Vietnam, also took place in Canada.[329]

Throughout the conflict, Canada became a haven for American Vietnam War resisters, with around 20,000 Vietnam draft dodgers and 12,000 military deserters seeking refuge in the country.[329] In a countercurrent to the movement of American draft dodgers and deserters to Canada, around 12,000 Canadians and Canadian-American dual citizens enlisted with the United States Armed Forces and served in combat roles in Vietnam.[330] Between 110 and 134 Canadians died during the conflict.[329][331] Seven remain listed as missing in action.[331]

Post-Cold War

In the 1990s, the CAF participated in multinational missions responding to international crises. The CAF also provided aid within Canada after several natural disasters, deploying over 8,500 military personnel to Manitoba after the 1997 Red River flood,[332] over 16,000 to aid in New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec after the North American ice storm of 1998. The 1998 ice storm marked the largest-ever Canadian military response to a domestic natural disaster and the largest operational deployment since the Korean War.[333][334][335]

Oka Crisis

Main article: Oka Crisis

Canadian Forces personnel pictured behind two civilians of the Sûreté du Québec during the Oka Crisis in 1990.

The Oka Crisis was a land dispute between a group of Mohawk and Oka, Quebec, from July 11 to September 26, 1990. Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa invoked Section 275 of the National Defence Act on August 8, requesting military support in "aid of the civil power",[336] after one police officer and two Mohawk were killed.[337]

Around 4,000 regular and reserve troops from Quebec were mobilized to support provincial authorities.[338][339] Troops and equipment were mobilized at staging areas around Kanesatake and Kahnawake, while reconnaissance aircraft conducted missions over Mohawk territory to gather intelligence.[338][337] A month after the military's deployment, the crisis ended with the departure of land defenders from the disputed grounds.[338]

Gulf War

Main article: Operation Friction

HMCS Protecteur supporting coalition forces during the Gulf War

Canada quickly joined the US-led UN coalition after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.[340] Over 5,100 CAF personnel served, with 2,700 in theatre at its peak. Operations were coordinated under Operation Friction. The Gulf War marked the first time female CAF members served in combat roles.[341]

A Canadian naval task force was sent to support the coalition, comprising destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan, and the supply ship HMCS Protecteur.[340] The Canadian Task Group led the coalition maritime logistics forces in the Persian Gulf.[342] Canadian warships conducted about a quarter of all inspections of vessels suspected of breaching the coalition blockade.[341] Another destroyer, HMCS Huron, arrived after hostilities ceased and was the first allied ship to visit Kuwait.[342]

A formation of coalition aircraft flying over Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, 1991. A Canadian CF-18 Hornet is visible in the right foreground.

The CAF also deployed a CF-18 Hornet and CH-124 Sea King squadron.[343] When the air campaign began, 24 Canadian CF-18s joined coalition forces in providing air cover and targeting ground assets, including assisting in the destruction of the Iraqi Navy during the Battle of Bubiyan.[344][345] The air war in Iraq was the first offensive combat operation Canadian military personnel took part in since the Korean War.[341][344]

A 530-person military field hospital was also deployed by the CAF, attached to a larger British unit.[341] In 1991, photographs of Canadian Military Engineers posing with dismembered bodies in a Kuwaiti minefield led to the unit being investigated.[346]

Somali Civil War

A security checkpoint operated by Canadian soldiers at Belet Huen Field in Somalia, 1993

The CAF supported UNOSOM I in the Somali Civil War,[347] aiding in security, humanitarian relief, and ceasefire monitoring.[348] In December 1992, the first US-led, UN-sanctioned force, UNITAF, arrived in Somalia. UNITAF involved 23 countries, including Canada, which contributed around 1,400 soldiers from the Canadian Airborne Regiment and the naval support ship HMCS Preserver.[349] In May 1993 the operation came under UN command and was renamed UNOSOM II.[350] Due to resistance from certain local factions, UNOSOM II struggled to end the conflict, enforce a ceasefire, or secure cooperation from local warlords. Consequently, it focused on protecting food and medical aid distribution sites rather than restoring order.[349]

A Canadian Airborne Regiment member in a foxhole in Somalia. The conduct of the regiment in the country became a national scandal in Canada.

Based primarily in Beledweyne, Canadian forces rebuilt infrastructure, cleared landmines, and guarded aid convoys.[349] However, the mission became a political disaster for Canada.[351] Canadian soldiers, performing these duties, were frequently harassed, with their base often targeted by looters. In response, the Canadian commander authorized looters to be shot in the leg if they ran. Another officer later allowed thieves to be "captured and abused."[352] In March 1993, airborne soldiers killed a civilian that was fleeing after breaking into their base to steal supplies. A week later, another airborne soldier tortured and killed a youth who had also broken into the encampment.[349][353] Cover-up attempts by senior officials at the Department of National Defence sparked a national scandal in Canada. A federal inquiry into the scandal resulted in the end of several officers' careers, several soldiers court-martialed, and the airborne regiment's disbandment.[349][354] The scandal damaged Canada's international reputation and was heralded as "the darkest era in the history of the Canadian military" since the Second World War.[352]

The UN mission itself failed to restore order, with mounting casualties prompting the US to withdraw its forces after the Battle of Mogadishu. This experience largely halted the use of robust multinational military forces from western countries for humanitarian aid during civil conflicts.[349]

Yugoslav Wars

Main article: Yugoslav Wars

Two CF-18s with Operation Echo depart Aviano Air Base in Italy in 2000, in support of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.

Since 1991, about 40,000 CAF personnel and civilian police, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, participated in Balkans peacekeeping missions, beginning with the European Community Monitoring Mission in the Former Yugoslavia in 1991. This involvement spanned UN missions like UNCRO in Croatia, UNMIBH in Bosnia and Herzegovina, UNMIK in Kosovo, and UNPREDEP in North Macedonia. Additionally, they contributed to NATO missions such as IFOR and SFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Kosovo Force, and task forces Harvest and Fox in North Macedonia, as well as EU missions like EUFOR Concordia and Operation Althea.[355]

In September 1993, the largest battle involving Canadian military personnel since the Korean War occurred when Canadian and French peacekeepers under UNPROFOR fought Croat forces for 15 hours.[356][357][358] The Canadian-French contingent was tasked with securing the Medak pocket, a strategic salient between Croat and Serb forces when Operation Medak Pocket was launched by Croat forces.[356] Initially targetting Serb positions, on September 15, Croat forces besieged the Canadian-French position at Medak pocket, prompting them to respond.[356][357] The Canadian government reported 27 Croatian soldiers killed and four Canadians wounded during the exchange.[356][359]

The CAF also contributed warships to NATO's maritime blockade of the region, and 18 CF-18 Hornets to support the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.[355] During the bombing campaign, Canadian CF-18s flew 678 sorties, about 10 per cent of all NATO strike missions.[360]

21st century

HMCS Charlottetown after it conducted a boarding of a vessel in the Arabian Sea in 2008. Charlottetown was deployed in support of Operation Altair, a naval anti-terrorism operation

During the early 21st century, Canada participated in multiple missions in support of the global war on terror, including the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom. This included security operations conducted in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman from 2001 to 2012. This deployment marked the Canadian navy's largest since World War II, with 15 warships dispatched. At its peak in January 2002, six Canadian warships and 1,500 personnel were in the region, conducting patrols and intercepting suspected terrorists and illegal drug shipments.[361]

While Canada participated in several multinational missions in the early 2000s, it abstained from joining the US-led coalition of the willing during the Iraq War.[362] Although Canada was not directly involved in the Iraq War, its forces did help to relieving US naval assets by expanding the CAF's role in Combined Task Force 151, a multinational task force combating piracy off the coast of Somalia.[363] Several Canadians, serving as exchange officers with British and US units, also participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[364][365] Conversely, some US military personnel who opposed the Iraq War sought refuge in Canada after deserting to avoid deployment.[366]

War in Afghanistan

Main article: Canada's role in the Afghanistan War

Canadian soldiers on their way to provide security for a site in northeast Kandahar in April 2002

Weeks after the September 11th attacks, Canada committed to joining the US-led war in Afghanistan (2001–2021). Canadian special forces participated in the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, with an additional Canadian infantry battle group of 1,200 soldiers deployed to Kandahar in February 2002 to combat al-Qaeda and Taliban forces and support humanitarian efforts.[361]

Following the invasion, Canadian units operated within NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The CAF contributed a 2,000-strong infantry battle group, alongside armoured, artillery, and aerial support, to ISAF. The battle group was stationed in Kabul from 2003 to 2005, tasked with providing security and disarming Afghan militias.[361] In November 2005, the CAF launched Operation Archer, shifting its focus from Kabul to Kandahar.[367] After its relocation to Kandahar, the battle group oversaw counter-insurgency operations and the province's Provincial Reconstruction Team. In Kandahar, the battle group achieved a series of victories including Operation Medusa and the Battle of Panjwaii.[368] However, they were unable to root out all insurgents in the region, who took refuge on the Pakistani side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.[361]

Canadian soldiers of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team on patrol in 2008.

Public support for the war in Canada waned as casualties mounted in late 2006.[361] This contributed to the selection of "the Canadian soldier" as the Canadian Press' Canadian Newsmaker of the Year.[369] Support for the war dropped further after Joint Task Force 2 members were photographed handing over detainees to Afghan security forces, who were subsequently tortured.[370] Despite mounting public opposition, the government remained committed to the war until 2011, partly due to the CAF's portrayal of the war as a success. In 2011, Canada ended its combat operations in Afghanistan.[361] However, some Canadian soldiers remained until March 2014 to train the Afghan National Army and National Police under NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.[371] Canadian Special Operations Forces Command personnel were briefly redeployed to Afghanistan during the 2021 Taliban offensive to evacuate Canadian citizens, close its embassy, and assist with the Kabul airlift.[372]

Over 40,000 Canadian soldiers served in Afghanistan. The 12-year mission marked Canada's longest military campaign, with 165 Canadians killed, including 158 soldiers and seven civilians.[361] The conflict marked the first instance a female CAF member was killed in combat, Captain Nichola Goddard of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.[373]

Libyan Civil War

Main article: Operation Mobile

RCAF CF-18 Hornets waiting to refuel from a British tanker, during the First Libyan Civil War in 2011.

On 25 February 2011, the CAF launched Operation Mobile, an evacuation mission in response to the First Libyan Civil War.[374] On March 19, the operation expanded to include air and maritime combat missions to support the 2011 military intervention in Libya to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973.[375][376] NATO assumed command of the multinational coalition through Operation Unified Protector, with Lieutenant General Charles Bouchard of the RCAF appointed as operational commander.[377] The coalition enforced a no-fly zone to prevent pro-Gaddafi forces from conducting air attacks on anti-Gaddafi forces and civilian areas.[376][375][378]

At its peak, 655 Canadians were deployed on Operation Mobile, including seven CF-18 fighter jets stationed in Italy. The frigate HMCS Charlottetown, already deployed in the Mediterranean as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, also patrolled Libya's coast. In May 2011, Charlottetown came under hostile fire from a shore battery, marking the first attack on a Canadian warship since the Korean War.[374] In October 28, Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the successful end of the mission.[379]

Mali War

Further information: Mali War

In 2012, insurgent groups in Mali seized control of parts of the country. The Mali government requested military aid from France in January 2013, prompting France to seek assistance from its NATO allies. Canada initially provided one C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft to support the French operation in Mali.[380] From 2015 to 2022, the CAF provided airlift support for French counter-insurgency operations in the Sahel region.[381][382] Over 1,250 CAF members were deployed to Mali from 2018 to 2019 to provide helicopter medical evacuations.[383] However, after 2019, the contingent was reduced to a few civilian and military personnel.[384]

War against the Islamic State

Main article: Operation Impact

A RCAF CF-18 Hornet breaks away from a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker, while on mission in support of Operation Impact.

In September 2014, Canada joined a global coalition in the war against the Islamic State.[385] From November 2014 to February 2016, Canadian CF-18s conducted 251 airstrikes in Iraq and five in Syria.[386] In February 2016, the CAF reoriented its mission from a combat operation to a training mission,[387][388] scaling back the size of its mission.[389][390] The mission's deployments are spread between its logistics hub in Kuwait, and its training missions in Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon.[389]

Canadian special forces were deployed to support the training mission.[388] In 2021, Canadian special forces participated in two Iraqi Armed Forces operations in non-combat roles.[391][392] One Canadian special forces operator was part of Talon Anvil, a 20-person USAF special operations group criticized for bypassing rules meant to safeguard civilians, leading to the deaths of hundreds of non-combatants.[393] The CAF's increased use of special forces reflects a shift in military thinking, as they increasingly rely on these units over conventional units for addressing asymmetric fighters in grey-zone. This reliance was acknowledged in a 2017 defence policy review, with the review expecting the reliance to persist and possibly grow in the foreseeable future.[392]

Peacekeeping efforts

Main article: Canadian peacekeeping

a person in a military uniform wearing a United Nations blue helmet
Canadian peacekeeper in 1976 wearing the distinctive flag of Canada and UN blue helmet

Canada has taken part in over 50 peacekeeping missions, including every UN effort from its inception to 1989.[394] Over 125,000 Canadians served as peacekeepers, with around 130 Canadians having died during these operations.[395] Canada's support for multilateralism and internationalism are closely tied to its peacekeeping efforts.[396][397][398]

Canada's role in the development of and participation in peacekeeping during the 20th century helped shape its reputation as a positive middle power.[399][400] Canada's successful mediation of the 1956 Suez Crisis gave its credibility as a country that fought for the common good of all nations.[401][402] The Canadian public came to identify peacekeeping as the nation's foremost contribution to international affairs.[403][404][405]

Canada faced controversy over its involvement in some peacekeeping missions, prompting a military reassessment in the late 1990s.[406] By the 21st century, Canadian involvement in UN peacekeeping greatly declined, with its military participation reallocated to UN-sanctioned operations through NATO.[407] This reallocation led to a shift towards more militarized and deadly missions, rather from traditional peacekeeping duties.[408]

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Further reading