Canadian Autonomy was the product of the evolution of Canadian Nationalism and the development of a desire to become independent from Britain. At one time Canada was nothing more than a British colony and the only pride felt by Canadian residents was the pride in being a British subject. Over time and with the guidance of Prime Ministers like Sir Wilfrid Laurier, this began to change and a distinct Canadian identity surfaced.
Canada’s Autonomy was not something debated on in parliament as an issue in itself, but rather something that came together as a complete picture because of other smaller acheivements and advancements:
The Boer War was a British was fought in South Africa. It was purely an excuse for Britain to exert some military might and show the world that she was still the world’s greatest military power. Britain asked Canada for a contribution to the war effort. The Prime Minister at the time, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was an advocate for Canadian Nationalism and a French-Canadian. As a nationalist, Laurier saw no reason in sending Canadian troops into a war which was being fought despite the lack of any threat whatsoever from the South Africans. As a French-Canadian, Laurier shared the same disinclination to help the English as his French-speaking countrymen. He, the French-Canadians, English-speaking labourists, and the farmers of Canada all did not feel it was necessary to send any troops.
The majority of Canadian citizens still felt a deep kinship with Britain however, and Laurier was forced to allow for a volunteer force to be trained and sent to South Africa. On arrival they would be the expense of Britain, and would serve under a British commander, but would be distinct Canadian units. As Canada’s first expeditionary force they were ill-equipped and poorly trained and yet they still garnered a reputation as a respectable military outfit. The return home of the Boer War’s Canadian participants sparked the creation of four new organizations: the Army Service corps, the Army Medical corps, the Corps of Signals, and the Ordinance corps. Hesitation at being asked to participate in the Boer War served to distance Canada in Britain. Also, the volunteer force of roughly 1000 troops was less than Britain expected. Military service in the Boer War left Canada with a stronger, more able military and the experience of overseas combat, preparation for when Canada might actually have to defend itself.
The early 20th century affair of the Alaska Boundary Dispute between Canada and the United States was another part of the struggle for Canadian Autonomy. The dispute was over who controlled the Alaska Panhandle. This couldn’t be agreed upon, so it was decided that a tribunal would judge who was entitled. The tribunal, composed of three Americans, two Canadians, and an Englishman came to a four to two conclusion that the U.S. owned the rights to the Panhandle. The three Americans and the Brit voted for the U.S. and the two Canadians voted for Canada. Canada, feeling betrayed, had assumed that the British vote would for sure be cast for Canada. This was not the case as Britain thought little about the wants of the colony and, more of it’s need for American steel.
Canada, a growing but still insignificant military power would have a place in the onslaught of World War I. Prime Minister Laurier didn’t know this, still he knew that any country with coastline can make good use of a navy. Flanked with two great oceans, Canada had no navy. This folly was reasoned through a British patrol that guarded Canadian ports. Canada would have a navy though, for when Britain began a naval arms race with Germany, she recalled ships dispatched throughout the world. Where there hadn’t been any, support sprouted for a Canadian navy. When an opportunity appeared, Laurier jumped. Britain asked Canada for thirty million dollars to aid in construction of new dreadnought ships. Laurier proposed that Canada receive two old British cruisers in return for the payment. Britain accepted and Canada gained the beginnings of a navy.
The two facets of autonomous function that make themselves known in Canada’s development, independence from a mother country and the ability to make independent military contributions to peace-keeping or world-safety insuring campaigns are definitely the most important and most effective when altering the state of a country. The effort put forth by Canada in World Wars I & II as well as the trials of the Great Depression did a lot to build Canadian confidence in the self and in the country’s stability. Pride in Canada’s armed forces, hockey teams, and the Cultural Mosaic we live in all form a basis for Canadian Nationalism in the presence of which it is impossible to have this be country that still looks up the flag to see the Union Jack.