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Canada in the modern times: Finally Canada goes fully independent … And experiences two world wars!!

The 20th century was full of significant incidents for the whole world, with Canada being no exception. This century started relatively peacefully for the dawn of Canada in the modern times, with more treaties signed with First Nations, obtaining more land and resources. Three of the treaties were signed in this century. You can read more about treaties in the 19th-century section.

Two world wars, political stuff, dirty 30s, etc., if you think Canada was spared of these events…. Well, you just need to read the rest of this article, and you will know how Canada was impacted by them; you might even find a couple of dark, regrettable points in Canada’s History, who knows?

Canada in the 20th century

Canada in the modern times became more prosperous day by day, making it a destination for immigrants. Millions of people from Europe and the United States immigrated to Canada, with Pacific Railway and lands gained through treaties letting them settle westward.

The subject land of each Treaty

The subject land of each Treaty

RMS TITANIC; a bitter memory for Canada in the modern times

On its first voyage, RMS Titanic, the so-called “Unsinkable,” crashed into an iceberg and met its demise on 14th April 1912, marking a bitter point for Canada in the modern times. Of all 2,228 people on it, 1,518 lost their lives. This incident happened about 600 km southeast of Newfoundland. The first ship to reach the site was RMS Carpathia, 93 Km away from Titanic, arriving at the scene after the Titanic was sunk. It saved more than 700 people. RMS Carpathia was sunk in WWI, hit by German torpedoes.

On 17th April, four vessels from Halifax began their search for the bodies of the deceased. More than 300 bodies were recovered, 150 of which were laid to rest in three cemeteries in Halifax. You could say it was one of the instances that Canada in the modern times got involved with international incidents.

Graves of Titanic Victims, Halifax

Titanic Sinking Location

World War I

Canadians had proved their valor and pride in the British Empire by having thousands of volunteers to fight in the South African War (AKA Boer War) and Battle of Paardeberg. Hundreds of them were killed in these wars, but it didn’t budge their national pride. But Canada in the modern times had more to offer to Canadians, to demonstrate their love for their country.

In 1910 Royal Canadian Navy was established, and it was just four years before their biggest challenge rose: England declared war on Germany; thus, Canada entered World War I.

The most notable feat of the Canadian Army called the Canadian Expeditionary Force then, was the “Battle of Vimy Ridge” in 1917, in which 4 Canadian divisions with 1 British division were triumphant against three divisions of the German Army, using modern and innovative tactics along with strong artillery and highly trained soldiers. During this battle, they successfully captured the high ground of Vimy Ridge, helping other fronts in the Battle of Arras. This was the first victory of Britain’s army in WWI.

Today, April 9th, is celebrated as Vimy Ridge Day, a national monument of achievement and sacrifice.

Canadian Soldiers Advancing Behind a Tank

Battle of Vimy Ridge, portrayed by Richard Jack

A few months later, in 1918, Canadians, along with the French and the British troops, fought in “Last hundred days”, which resulted in Germany’s surrender, thus ending the war. It’s also known as “Canada’s hundred days”, implying Canadian troops’ bravery and daring spirit until the last days of the war.

At the time of WWI, Canada had a population of about 8 million, an astonishing number of 600,000 served at war, most of which were volunteers, 60,000 of them were killed in action, and 170,000 were wounded, but this didn’t bitter the sweetness of victory and national pride for Canadians.

Every year, not only in Canada in the modern times, but in some other countries involved in WWI, 11th November is a memorial day to all who lost their lives in WWI.

WWI had another notable incident for Canadians; “Halifax Explosion”, the largest man-made explosion then, and still the largest non-nuclear accidental man-made explosion today. This explosion happened in 1917, when the French cargo ship, Mont Blanc, loaded with explosives, had a collision with another ship, and fire on the deck led to the enormous explosion. The incident obliterated Richmond district and reportedly claimed the lives of 2000 and left 9,000 injured.

Aftermath of explosion, looking towards Dartmouth

Aftermath of devastative explosion

During WWI and until 1920, a regrettable decision was made; More than 8,000 Austro-Hungarians, mostly Ukrainians, were confined in labor camps in Canada, suspending all their civil rights, albeit Britain had recommended this not to happen. In the next decades, there were efforts to compensate for this lamentable decision.

Another aspect of modernism emerged in Canada in the modern times: The women’s right to vote was acknowledged in war times too, many of the men were away at war, and women had new responsibilities. Also, well-educated, wealthy Canadian women started questioning why men with lower social class had the right to vote, but they didn’t. The right to vote for women was granted through years in different provinces, starting in 1916 with ManitobaSaskatchewanAlberta, and Quebec under the influence of the Catholic Church being the last one to allow women to vote in 1940.

Dirty Thirties; a challenge for modern Canada

In September 1929, news of the US stock price fall was transmitted all over the world. This was the birth of the “Great Depression”, an economic shock to the world that left many people jobless and caused excessive poverty to some. 

Canada was no exception, this economic downfall mixed with drought in western parts, dealt a huge blow to its economics and social status, for Canada in the modern times depended heavily on agriculture and raw material for profit. Millions of people lost their jobs, homes, etc. In a few years, the industrial production of Canada fell 42%, national income fell 44%, and the unemployment rate reached 27%.


These events gave rise to social welfare and made the government get actively involved with the economy and welfare.

Food line, Toronto, 1930s

World War II

The Parliament of Britain passed the “Statute of Westminster 1931″ in 1931. This act officially terminates Britain’s parliament power to nullify or pass rules in Canada and other countries of the “Commonwealth Realm ” (Countries that were Colonies of England, but now govern themselves while accepting Crown as their monarch). 

This act gave Canada independence as a self-governing dominion, something many Canadians in Canada in the modern times sought. The only power the British Parliament still held was to revise Canada’s constitution if the Canada parliament asked.

Courtesy of Statute of Westminster 1931, Canada was independent in foreign politics, which meant England declaring war on Germany didn’t enter Canada into the war (Except for Newfoundland that was still a British colony then); hence in 1939, Canada declared war on Germany and entered WWII.

Suffering from the “Great Depression”, Canada had not paid much attention to expanding its army. In 1938 when war atmosphere was filling the world, Canada doubled its military budget, however in 1939, Canada’s full-time army had a little more than 4,000 officers, its reserve army had a population of about 51,000, and the number of whole people in the Navy and Air Force was less than 6,500. Nonetheless, approximately 1,100,000 of a total of 11.5 million Canadians served in WWII, most of them never leaving Canada though, and 44,000 of them were killed in the war.

Canada’s army took part in some renowned battles, but not all of them were victories. They fought to defend Hong Kong from invading Japanese troops in 1941 but were overwhelmed; they raided Dieppe with Britain’s troops to seize its control from Nazis, yet they were unsuccessful again. On the contrary, Canada’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy had their shining moments in war, respectively aiding Britain and France in controlling Europe skies and protecting merchant ships from the German navy, especially submarines, in the Battle of Atlantic, and also providing nourishments and supplies to war-torn England’s troops. 

Bodies of Canadian Soldiers, Dieppe

Canada Troops in Hong Kong, Before Japan Invasion


One of the most outstanding feats of Canada’s history in WWII was the liberation of the Netherlands.  A few months after the famous D-Day (The day Allied forces landed on Normandy, France), Allied forces continued advancing through Europe to push back Nazi Germans. The Canadian corps cleared and liberated northern and western parts of the Netherlands, allowing food and other support to reach the famished people.

Canada started WWII with a low number of battleships, but by the end of the war, Canada’s Navy was the third largest one in the world. Navy and general military power were not the only aspects of Canada’s thriving; Canada became a thoroughly modern industrial nation during wartime. War, with all its blackness, still became a stepping stone for Canada in the modern times.

Canadians Landing on Juno Beach, D-Day

Like WWI, during wartime, another regrettable decision was made; discriminating between people based on their origins and preventing them from their civil rights. Germans, Japanese, Italians, etc., were subjects to this blameworthy campaign.

In 1988 the government of Canada apologized for the deeds that happened during wartime and tried to compensate the victims. 

Modern Canada

Right after WWII was finished, the nation which was looking into the prospect of Canada in the modern times, joined the United Nations (UN) as a founding member. Canada was one of the four British Dominions to join the UN.

In 1949, the last British colony in North America, Newfoundland, joined Confederation as the tenth province of Canada. There was a referendum to determine its faith between remaining under the British Crown, becoming independent, or joining Canada.

Also, in 1949 Canada signed a treaty with 11 other countries, North Atlantic Treaty (NATO), responding to the threat of the Eastern Bloc, communist USSR, and its subdivisions. Signing NATO entered Canada into a new phase of relations with the United States, getting farther away from Great Britain.

Canada’s flag history goes back to 1963 and 1964, when it was believed that Canada in the modern times needed a flag to show its values and symbols. More than 3500 designs for the Canada flag were submitted to the Special Flag Committee. The Red Maple was chosen as the new Canada Flag.

Another proposed flag

“the Pearson Pennant”, was thought to win the contest easily

Another aftermath of WWII was the “Quiet Revolution”. In the 1960s, the culture and society of Canada were changing and evolving quickly. In this period, Quebec residents contemplated separation from Canada. At first, this led to the Official Languages Act (1969), which ensured both French and English services in the federal government over Canada. Even getting violent sometimes (Separatist paramilitaries groups made some terror attacks), the uproar of separation ended in 1980, when a referendum was held to determine whether Quebec would stay in Canada or go independent. With 40% of the votes, separatists were the minority.

Constitution Act of 1982

Canada took its last step towards independence in 1982 through the Constitution Act of 1982. This Act also ensured the rights of Indigenous people of Canada, Accepting Metis as indigenous as well. 

On 17th April 1982, Queen Elizabeth II and Canada’s Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau (Yes, he is Justin Trudeau’s father), announced Canada’s independence from Britain by signing the Proclamation, which brought the Act into force, and another new step was taken for a powerful Canada in the modern times.

21st Century

Canada has not seen any major conflict in the 21st century. But two incidents shocked not only Canadians but the whole world:

September 11 Attacks and Canada’s contribution

The terrorist attacks in New York, United States, had a shocking effect on all people worldwide. But it Had other effects on Canadians too. Due to the deadly incident, the United States airspace was closed to all international flights, which caused 500 flights to either return or land in another country.

Canada started “Operation Yellow Ribbon” to manage the flying trapped planes and helpless passengers. Around 225 aircraft were redirected to 10 provinces and territories and 17 airports in Canada, as well as 30,000 to 45,000 passengers. To be able to overcome this situation, Canada canceled all its flights except for police, military, and humanitarian aids. The only time that Canada Airspace was shut down.

CFB Gardener, gathered planes during Operation Yellow Ribbon

Mass Graves of Indigenous Children, a bitter taste left from past for modern Canada

The second shocking event that shook Canada in the modern times to the core was the discovery of unmarked graves belonging to indigenous children at “Kamloops Indian Residential School”. This was not the first time such ghastly cases were brought to light; since 1990, there have been similar instances of this sort of uncoverings. This finding was so unsettling that in some provinces, Canada Day celebrations were called off.

“Canadian Indian residential school system” consisted of several boarding schools across Canada, run by the Catholic Church, intended for the indigenous children, established in 1894. Native children were forced to attend these schools, where they were isolated from their own cultures in order to be assimilated with Europeans in Canada. Just in 2021, around 1400 bodies were found buried in the lands of these schools, most of which were unmarked.


After 1947, attendance was not mandatory anymore, and the last of these schools were closed in 1996. Many authorities were shocked and apologized to indigenous people, but the Pope wasn’t among them; a group of bishops apologized in his stead.

215 pair of children’s shoes, memorial to the buried children, Vancouver Art Gallery


Final words about Canada in the modern times

Thus, this ends our summary of Canada’s history. The Canada we know today may not have a long history, but it definitely has an exciting one, from Canada in the age of paleo indians, to Canada in the modern times, and you can find many meaningful moments in it which will linger in your mind for times.

 Please leave your feedback here, and let us know which part you want to know more about. Also, if you are curious about a certain province’s history, we have it ready for you!! Also if you are curious about other aspects of Canada, don’t forget to check our other articles regarding the GeographyPoliticsSocio-cultural, and Economics of Canada.

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