In 1914, Canada was a confident young country boasting a rapidly growing population of 8 million people, about 28 percent of whom were of French ethnic origin. Although in the midst of an economic downturn, the previous decade had seen an unprecedented boom: growing industrialization and urbanization, the emergence of a vibrant overseas and North American trading economy, massive immigration from Britain and continental Europe, and immense infrastructural development. Canada was domestically self-governing, but had no formal international status and, constitutionally, remained a colony of Britain. Many Canadians, perhaps most whom were of British ethnicity, felt pride and satisfaction at being part of the British Empire, to which they were fervently loyal.
Events in Europe seemed remote and Canada felt secure in North America: the United States was a powerful and friendly neighbour and Britain’s Royal Navy secured the North Atlantic. But events that summer lit a simmering fuse to a powder keg whose explosion would engulf Europe and the world, bringing calamity, devastation, and catastrophic loss of life. Canada would not be immune. On 28 June 1914, Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist. This led to war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia a month later, triggering other European states to mobilize their armies and enter the war in accordance with a series of tangled alliance systems and in support of national interests. Germany went to war with Russia and France, British allies. On 4 August, Britain declared war on Germany after Germany invaded Belgium, whose neutrality was important to British security. This declaration bound the entire British Empire, including Canada, to war.