Posted by Vi Hughes on Nov 03, 2020
This past Tuesday we were pleased to hear another very interesting talk from Norman Leach. This time he spoke about the impact that World War I made on the lives of Canadians on the home front. Canada sent almost ten percent of it’s population, six hundred thousand men and women to fight in the war, and about ten percent of those died fighting. This was a very big contribution for a small country like Canada.
The popular song ‘How ya gonna keep them down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree’, was an apt description of the changes the war made to the lives of these people, and once they returned home, Canada changed forever.  These mostly young men and women were overseas for up to five years. They had lived and fought in both small rural regions and the big cities of England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Egypt and many other countries. The armed forces had a policy of sending their troops to live in local billets set up in local homes, barns or public buildings that were located in relatively safe regions at least five kilometers back from the front. They would be sent to the front to fight for one week then return to their billets for one week on a rotation basis. They were also given two weeks off each year to go back to London, Paris or another safe large center of their choice. These mostly rural Canadian farm boys got to see some very exotic places and many very different ways of life from what they had previously known.
Combine this with the technological advances that the war brought and the subsequent applications to everyday life, such as tractors and other heavy duty equipment for use on the farm and in industry, which meant that two people could now do the work it took twelve to do in the past and the impact on daily life in Canada was immense. Prior to the war farm families often had eight or more children as their labor was needed to get all the chores done. Smaller farm families now became viable. Trains became more efficient with the introduction of better engines, meaning transportation of people and goods became cheaper. People began moving into towns and cities for more industrialized mechanized jobs. Another technological advance from the war was the use of the airplane and after the war it helped to open up the country, with many of the wartime pilots becoming well known bush pilots, in the distant North.
The war also had a big impact on the roles of women in society. The absence of so many men for almost five years, meant that women had to become more independent and they were encouraged to take on work that would normally have been a man’s domain. Many women also served overseas. Most of these were nurses, who were given the status of officers to keep them from fraternizing with the enlisted men. They got a taste of having more independence, of making their own decisions and earning their own money. They did not want to give this up when the war ended. Women’s suffrage got a large boost from this.
The war also changed our financial ways of life forever as Canada introduced an Income Tax after the war to help to pay for the immense debt the country had incurred. This also resulted in the loss of the concept of ‘Noblesse Oblige’. This concept that ‘From whom great things are given, great things are expected’, where the more affluent in society were expected to make financial and other contributions to the country as a whole. During the war, the Eaton family gave up their mansion to the war department and lived in a small apartment throughout the rest of the war. They also made large financial contributions and paid for the salaries of many soldiers. These types of things all ended once income tax, came in.  
Lastly, the war changed the opinions of the British about the abilities of Canadian servicemen. At the beginning of the war they envisioned Canadians as fill-ins for units when they lost men. By the end of the war Canadian units were fighting side by side under their own leadership with the British. A Canadian officer Major General John Elmsley even commanded the British troops in Siberia near the end of the war. Canada was now considered to be a full and equal partner in the war effort.
Thus the war had resulted in permanent changes that would change our way of life forever.
We would like to thank Norman for this very interesting and informative talk and the renewed respect it gives us for the many thousands who have served our country as well as the many unexpected life changing impacts that this service has had on our country.