The Canadian War Museum is proud to unveil The Home Front, 1917. This new exhibition module explores the social pressures caused by more than three years of overseas conflict — pressures that transformed Canadian society and provoked a major political crisis. The Home Front, 1917 opens to the public today, as a permanent part of the Canadian Experience Gallery 2 – For Crown and Country.
“As Canada’s national museum of military history, we are concerned not only with our country’s role in overseas conflicts, but also the impact of those conflicts on Canadians at home,” says Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum. “The First World War had particularly far-reaching effects that altered the very fabric of our young nation, and that continue to be felt and remembered a century later. This new content introduces a fresh dimension to our permanent exhibitions, sharing deeply personal stories about Canadian families, and shedding light on the social, cultural and political dynamics surrounding Canada’s role during the First World War.”
The Home Front, 1917 is divided into two sections. The first, called “The War at Home,” examines the impact of the First World War on Canadian families, children, culture and industry. It tells stories of heartbreaking sacrifice and loss, as well as of resilience and determination through family letters, photographs and personal items, including medals presented to the mothers and widows of fallen soldiers.
War-inspired toys, books and children’s clothing reflect the patriotic sentiments of the time. Movies and popular songs demonstrate the pride Canadians felt when it came to their participation in the war effort, even as they questioned the conflict and lamented the heavy human toll. Art and artifacts related to factories, food production and other industrial and economic sectors round out content that explores the war’s immediate and lasting effects on Canadian lives.
The second section, “Canada in Crisis,” uses interactive elements, an audiovisual presentation, artifacts, art, photographs, newspaper clippings and other archival documents to explain the Conscription Crisis. This 1917 political firestorm exposed the deep rift that existed between Canadians who viewed compulsory military service as necessary to win the war, and those who saw it as a gross violation of individual rights.
Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden’s decision to introduce conscription — after stating that he would not — provoked an acrimonious national debate over the extent and cost of Canada’s contribution to the war, leading to a bitterly contested federal election in 1917. The crisis served to heighten feelings of alienation and distrust brought on by years of sacrifice in the name of war, and the discontent sparked widespread conflict, labour unrest and the deadly 1918 Easter Riots in Québec City.
The Home Front, 1917 shows how regular Canadians responded to the increasing demands their country placed on them in wartime. This new module, with its candid and informative approach, is a valuable addition to our permanent exhibitions and to the overall War Museum visitor experience.
The Canadian War Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of its Official Partners of the Centenary of the First World War: John and Pattie Cleghorn and Family; H.Col (Ret’d) John C. Eaton, O.Ont., K.St.J., D.Com. and H.Col Sally Horsfall Eaton, S.S.St.J., C.D., R.N., LL.D.; The Friends of the Canadian War Museum; TD Bank Group; VISITFLANDERS and the R. Howard Webster Foundation.
The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Its mission is to promote public understanding of Canada’s military history in its personal, national and international dimensions.