Picturing Quebec’s Recruits

An Exploration of Identity during the First World War

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Before the Great War, the identity of most was centered around British Imperial heritage and traditions, while others groups, such as French-Canadians attempted to define their own identity outside of this framework. The First World War offered the population a common, yet nevertheless diverse, experience through its far reaching effects on those who served and those at home. 

Ultimately, the conflict paved the way for the emergence of a more distinct Canadian identity which would be defined in part by the experience of those like the men featured here.

Image: “Montreal Harbour from C.P.R. (Canadian Pacific Railway) Elevator.” [1908]. Notman Studio of Montreal/Library and Archives Canada/PA-011767

Shaping 20th Century Canada and Quebec

The 1890s through early 1910s were years of significant changes in Canada in both demographic and economic terms.

Then, as now, much of Canada’s economic growth was based on the exploitation of natural resources . Vast forests and abundant hydraulic power fueled a growing pulp and paper industry. The development of railways lines across the country not only facilitated trade with the United States, but also led to the discovery of significant nickel and copper ore deposits. Despite this growth, the years just prior to the war were marked by an economic slowdown which was particularly felt in the Canadian West.

Industrialization drove large numbers of people from the countryside into the cities. In Quebec, for example, a third of the population lived in cities at the turn of the century; by 1911 this figure had risen to just under half. 

Urban and industrial growth were particularly significant in Montreal, where half of Quebec’s industrial production was centered and roughly one-quarter of the province's population resided in 1901.

The rising exploitation of natural resources also leads to the creation of new towns like Shawinigan, and to the development of settlement regions like Mauricie and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean.

Image: “Dominion Government Immigration Hall, Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1900.” Ridsdale, G.F. / Library and Archives Canada / PA-122676

Simultaneously, other demographic changes occurred throughout the country: low mortality rates as well as large influx of immigrants offset decreased fertility rates to create a population boom. 

Between 1896 and 1914, about 1,000,000 people immigrated to Canada,

(hover to flip to the back)

helping the population climb to roughly 7.2 million

by the 1911 census.

The large number of immigrants from the British Isles, who made up more than half of those entering the country during this period, contributed to the slow change in Canadian nationalism and identity, which remained based on British character and institutions well into the 20th century.

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