French-Canadian Resistance to World War Participation

The largely French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec shown in red.
A war memorial on Prince Edward Island of three Canadian World War I soldiers.

French-Canadians belong to a French-speaking ethnic group mainly concentrated in the province of Quebec. This group, which for centuries has been under linguistic and cultural threat from an English-speaking Canadian majority, has always proudly held on to its French-Canadian identity, leading to Quebec developing in a different way than the rest of Canada. Over the years, these differences, as to be expected, have resulted in political conflicts over policy matters such as culture, language and foreign affairs.

Less loyalty to Britain

In the foreign affairs department, plans to commit Canadian troops to overseas British wars have continually met French-Canadian resistance. In both World War I and World War II, for example, Quebec argued against heeding British pleas for involvement. The reason for this stance was that French-Canadians, quite naturally, felt less loyalty to Britain than British-descended Anglo-Canadians, and therefore were less willing to sacrifice themselves for the former colonial motherland.

Canadian volunteers in the world wars

In the end, Canada did send troops to support Britain in both world wars, but Quebec pressure resulted in military service overseas being voluntary. With this proviso of voluntarism in place, Anglophones, as expected, enlisted for overseas service in the world wars to a greater extent than Francophones, although there were also a considerable number of French-speaking war volunteers.

Helping to boost the number of French-Canadian world war volunteers, quite likely, was the fact that Britain sided with France in both world wars. Also helping recruitment, but on a broader scale, was the fear of an autocratic new world dominated by Germany and Japan.