The Paris Peace Conference, 1919

One hundred years ago, delegates of the victorious Allied nations arrived in France at the Paris Peace Conference. In the following six months, they would take part in some of the most critical negotiations and decisions to reestablish peace and a new international order. With nearly 61 000 war dead, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden argued that Canada had earned her separate representation at the peace conference and the Dominion was given two seats in the negotiations that would lead to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. [1]

Image: Library and Archives Canada.

The Paris Peace Conference opened on 18 January 1919 and was convened to establish the formal recognition of the end of the war and the terms of peace that would follow. Thirty-two delegates from participatory nations were present at the proceedings with the negotiations largely being led by Great Britain, France, and the United States. At the forefront of the proceedings were questions surrounding responsibility for the war, penalties and reparations for crimes committed during the war, and the formation of the League of Nations. At the end of the six months, the Treaty of Versailles was ratified and outlined that Germany and its allies were responsible for the war. While Sir Robert Borden fought hard to have the treaty signed by Canada separately, signatures of the British Dominions would be indented under that of the Empire.

One hundred years on, the legend of Versailles as a doomed settlement still persists. There are arguments to be made that it led to the circumstances surrounding the rise of Hitler and the outbreak of the Second World War. However, it should always be remembered that it was negotiated in the immediate aftermath of the worst world war that had yet been seen. The ongoing Russian Civil War, the fall of monarchies in Austria-Hungary and Germany, and the subsequent upheavals contributed to a fear that revolution was spreading westward. [2] Allied delegations also had to consider the expectations of their publics. The ramifications of the war had been so catastrophic and the losses so great that there was an unwavering sentiment that someone should be held accountable and pay for the damages.

While Canada’s role in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles was limited, her separate representation signified a change in her relationship with Great Britain. According to Tim Cook, the Great War was Canada’s war of independence. Whether it is true or not, it should still be recognized that the Canadian force’s battlefield success helped contribute towards its autonomy and international recognition. [3] Canada’s seats at the Paris Conference and signature on the Treaty of Versailles set precedent for a Canada that was capable of determining its own foreign policy. 

References

[1] Dockrill, Michael. & Fisher, John. (Eds.). The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: Peace Without Victory? New York: Palgrave, 2001.

[2] MacMillan, Margaret. (2013). Lessons from History: The Paris Peace Conference. Retrieved from https://www.international.gc.ca/odskelton/macmillan.aspx?lang=eng

[3] Cook, Tim. Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918. Toronto: Viking Canada, 2008. p. 627.

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