The Canadian regular army barely exceeded 3,000 men, supported by 70,000 partially trained militiamen, so the Government was obliged to call on volunteers to fill out the ranks of the proposed expeditionary force. Compulsory military service, or conscription, was not contemplated at this time although the Borden Government could have proceeded with such a policy at any time under the provisions of the War Measures Act. Enthusiasm was not lacking among Canadians of British origin, especially those born in Britain. Ontario and western Canada, in the throes of economic recession, provided disproportionately large numbers of men, as did urban areas in general.
A camp was hastily established at Valcartier, Quebec to organize the contingent, outfit the volunteers, and offer basic training. Experience of preparing such a large force was lacking in the country and the Minister of Militia and Defence, Colonel Sam Hughes, confusingly reorganized the prewar mobilization plan and issued a number of directives which only added to the barely controlled chaos. Remarkably, on 3 October 1914, nearly 33,000 partially trained and equipped men plus several thousand horses set out from Quebec City for Britain. About two-thirds of these men were British-born, establishing a recruitment pattern that would last into 1916. They landed in Plymouth on 15 October to a rousing reception and headed for Salisbury Plain, where they would undergo several months of advanced training prior to being deployed to the continent.
The Canadian First Contingent arrived in Britain in October 1914 and spent the autumn and the early winter of 1915 in very rainy weather on Salisbury Plain in southern England. They were introduced to the rigours of training for modern war in preparation for their dispatch to the Western Front. By this time, the opposing forces there had settled into a stalemate, each side having dug a series of increasingly intricate trench lines stretching for some 600 kilometres from the English Channel coast of Belgium all the way to Switzerland. In these trenches and underground dugouts the men found protection from the artillery, machine-gun, and sniper fire raking their positions. The trench lines were themselves protected by deep belts of barbed wire.