Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes distrusted francophones and Catholics and at first refused to authorize any French-language units. But the second contingent of troops included the 22nd Infantry Battalion, a French-speaking unit which went to France in and fought with distinction in every major Canadian engagement until the end of the war. They are very proud of it. First World War recruitment poster aimed at French-Canadians.
Help the French rooster defeat the Prussian eagle, it reads. While the disparity in rates of enlistment between French- and English-Canadians is well known, few people are aware that fully two-thirds of the Canadian volunteers who signed up at the start of the war were born in Britain, noted military historian Desmond Morton. With high unemployment in the wake of an economic downturn in , British immigrants jumped at the chance of steady pay in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, he said. While the issue polarized French- and English-Canadians, Richard noted that the impact of conscription on ordinary people in Quebec and the rest of Canada was not that different.
There was also resistance to conscription in rural Ontario and the West and some minorities, like the Doukhobors, a religious group of Russian descent, lost the right to vote in because of their pacifist beliefs. But in English Canada — where women handed white feathers, symbolizing cowardice, to men who were not in uniform — there was much greater public pressure to serve. Opinion leaders like Henri Bourassa, a grandson of Patriote leader Louis-Joseph Papineau who is best remembered as the founder of Le Devoir, attacked the Borden government for calling on Quebecers to defend the French in Europe while failing to stand up for the rights of francophones at home.
Ontario had recently adopted Regulation 17, eliminating French schooling beyond Grade 2. For Bourassa, a Canadian nationalist who saw Confederation as a pact between the two founding language groups, it was an abject betrayal. Enacted on Aug. Exemptions initially granted for farmers were later revoked. Captain A. Fournier, who toured Montmagny, east of Quebec City, in May and June to recruit volunteers, encountered stiff resistance.
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On Aug. No one was hurt. On March April 1, , popular unrest climaxed with the Easter Riots in Quebec City, one of the most violent civil disturbances in Canadian history.
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It started when two Dominion Police constables, sent to Quebec to track down people trying to evade conscription, stopped a young man, Joseph Mercier, in a bowling alley to ask for his exemption certificate. An angry crowd of 2, gathered, and refused to be appeased even when Mercier was later released. Rioters broke into a police station and beat up several officers.
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In the following days, violence spread as crowds hurling rocks and blocks of ice filled the streets. The Borden government, which had been expecting civil violence, proclaimed martial law and dispatched 6, troops from Ontario and Western Canada to Quebec — a massive presence given the pressing need for soldiers on the European front. French-speaking troops were kept in their barracks because the government did not trust them to remain loyal. On April 1, troops fired on the crowd, killing at least four, with more than injured, including soldiers. The four victims, ranging from age 14 to 49, were all local residents with no known political affiliations.
For intellectuals like Bourassa, the vision of Canada as the partnership of two founding peoples had been shattered, Richard said. An ardent Catholic who believed the pope should mediate an end to the war, Bourassa increasingly withdrew from politics into religion, she said.
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Groulx — cleric, historian and polemicist — drew on the conscription debate to redefine French-Canadian nationalism as the narrative of a valiant people victimized by their French, British and finally Canadian masters: a viewpoint that would lay the foundations for the future independence movement, Richard said. In the end, fewer than 48, conscripts were shipped overseas and half of those served at the front. Further divisions exist, too. The poll, conducted online from Dec.
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The Sun of Quebec: A Story of a Great Crisis by Joseph A. Altsheler
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