History of Remembrance Day in Canada


Every year on November 11, Canadians take a day to remember those who have fought in the wars of the past as well as honour those who continue to fight on our behalf. More than 2 million Canadians have fought for our peace and freedoms, and more than 118,000 have lost their lives and their futures in these battles. 

Canadians of all ages, races, and social classes were either wounded or killed, and many who did return from the wars were scarred with both mental and physical wounds.There were also people who stayed home in Canada to serve in factories and voluntary service organizations while the wars endured abroad.

These are all the Canadians we remember on Remembrance Day.

Why Do We Remember?

Without the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought on our behalf, the freedoms, values, and institutions set in place today may not have existed now. Knowing the horrors and devastation that war brings, we remember these events so we can be reminded to always work towards preventing war in the future.

What Wars Did Canada Fight Against?

The three major wars our Canadian soldiers have been in include the First and Second World War as well as the Korean War. Here is a brief summary of each war.

The First World War (1914-1918)

The First World War, also known as “The Great War,'' stemmed from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914. This led to alliances that formed the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) and Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan, and the United States and Canada). 

The Germans, who were the main support for the Central Powers, had some of the most advanced military techniques. In Ypres, Belgium on April 22, 1915, the Germans had dropped chlorine gas over the trenches. The Canadian troops fought against their advances in spite of the poisonous gas and were successful at stopping them. This, however, cost them a third of their soldiers within the span of 48 hours.

The soldiers were at a disadvantage using rifles and bayonets while the Germans were using modern machine guns. It was decided that the Allied Powers would construct some trenches on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

Our Canadian troops were instrumental in winning the battle at Vimy Ridge. There were even more casualties as a result of this win. The war, however, continued for more than a year with battles all across the Western and Eastern Fronts. 

At last, on November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed, and the Canadian soldiers participated in the triumphant march into Mons, Belgium. Some were hopeful that this was “the war to end all wars.”

The Second World War (1939-1945)

Unfortunately, the First World War was not the last. Two decades later, a new leader rose to power in Germany with world domination on his mind. Adolf Hitler formed strategic alliances with Japan and Italy while rearming the nation to be ready for war. In 1939, Hitler led the invasion of Poland, driving Great Britain and France to declare war against Germany. This was the beginning of the Second World War. During this six-year war, it is important to note that Hitler also constructed the idea of a “superior race,” and as a result, the mass murder of the Jewish people known as the Holocaust occured. 

There were many Canadians who fought bravely on battlefronts around the world during the war. They were also stationed at the home front as civil defence workers, voluntary service organization members, and ordinary citizens doing the best they could to help fight the war.

In December 1941, our soldiers attempted to defend Hong Kong against the Japanese but were unsuccessful. Many were killed and wounded, and others were taken as prisoners of war. In August 1942, Canadian soldiers were a big part of the attack force on the French port of Dieppe. Again, they were unsuccessful, and the losses were many.

However, in 1943, they were successful in defeating the Nazis. On June 6, 1944, famously known as D-Day, Canadians marched with the Allied forces who arrived on the coast of Normandy. They had victories against the Nazis in Belgium and Holland as well.

In May 1945, the Allied forces made great advances towards a final victory in Europe. Soon after, on August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, a second bomb destroyed Nagasaki. Finally, on August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered, and the Second World War was over.

The Korean War (1950-1953)

The break from war was short lived for our Canadian soldiers. In 1950, they were called back on behalf of the United Nations to defend South Korea against a North Korean invasion. China had joined together with North Korea to battle the United Nations a year later.

There were 26,791 Canadian soldiers stationed at Kapyong. When the fighting stopped in 1953, around 7,000 soldiers stayed behind as part of a peacekeeping force until 1955 when they were sent back home. 

Other Wars

Our Canadian soldiers also fought bravely in these wars:

  • South African War (1899-1902)
  • Persian Gulf War (1990-1991)
  • Afghanistan War (2001-2014)

Peacekeeping Missions

We have soldiers stationed around the world to help keep the peace in many countries like Lebanon, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, and Sudan.

How We Can Remember

There are memorials around the world and in Canada to honour the service of our Canadian troops. Specifically, we have The National War Memorial in Ottawa (see below). It was originally built to honour those who fought in The First World War but has since been re-dedicated to include the sacrifices of those who fought in The Second World War, the Korean War, and other wars to date. It also serves as a symbol of those still on the peacekeeping missions around the world, still fighting for freedom and peace.

Photo taken from Veterans Affairs Canada

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which is located next to the National War Memorial in Ottawa contains the remains of an unknown Canadian First World War soldier who was exhumed from a cemetery near Vimy Ridge. The Tomb and the  Unknown Soldier is a symbol that represents all Canadians, no matter where or in what station they served, who died for their country.

What You Can Do This Remembrance Day

  1. Watch your local news on ceremonies happening live in your city.
  2. Find some great resources from Veterans Affairs Canada.
  3. Choose a book to read from this list recommended by Canadian librarians.
  4. Read “In Flanders Fields.”
  5. Do a remembrance day craft or activity. Here is a Poppy Craft for you to try
  6. Observe one minute of silence.
  7. Listen to “O Canada.”

We are so grateful for the service of our Canadian troops and for the sacrifices made so that we could be free. Join us as we remember them on November 11.

This article has been written by homeschooling staff writers of The Canadian Schoolhouse (TCS). Enjoy more of our content from TCS contributors and staff writers by visiting our Front Door page that has content on our monthly theme and links to all our content sections.

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"Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6).