Ordeal by Fire: Canada, 1910-1945

By Ralph Allen | Go to book overview

XVIII
Passchendaele--The last German counterattack

AFTER its noisy preliminaries, conscription turned out to be an equally noisy failure. There were many categories of exemptions and when the act went into force the hearing of appeals took far more time than the swearing in and training of new soldiers. It was not only French Canadians who tried to evade the draft. Farmers' sons had been granted exemptions under certain conditions. They were demanded and granted in large numbers, and sometimes the men who were refused exemption stirred up demonstrations. In one of them, at Perth, Ontario, five hundred farmers jammed the streets. In another small Ontario town the local paper declared: "Every man taken from a Canadian farm destroys the power of Canada to feed the men at the Front. Every man taken from a Canadian farm makes more terrible the cry of starving women and children for whom our men are fighting. . . . Conscription . . . is a conspiracy of the rich and powerful against the lowly. Do you wish to enslave Canada's manhood to help the titled aristocrats?" A wealthy Winnipeg man created a causecélèbre by trying to buy his young and able son out of the draft by offering to subscribe to half a million dollars' worth of war bonds.

By the end of March 1918, the draft law had produced no more than twenty-two thousand reinforcements, far less than a tenth of the total Canadian force then serving overseas. Only two thousand of the men actually enrolled under the compulsory system were from Quebec, where the appeal boards were more sympathetic than in other parts of the country and the appeals were more numerous. The loud assaults against what little was left of the country's unity grew as the inevitable search for draft dodgers began.

-158-

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