Canada's growing autonomy Kevin & Phuong

Participation in WWI, 1914-1918

Canada's participation in WWI was most eminent in three significant battles: Battle of Vimy Ridge, Battle of Passchendaele and Canada's Hundred Days

Battle of Vimy Ridge

At 5:30 am, on Monday April 9, 1917, Canadian troops successfully invaded Vimy Ridge - one of Germany's key vantage point in Northern France. Both armies wanted control over Vimy because its height gave troops an advantage. Previously, British and French forces have attempted to take this ridge however, they were unable to defeat the German troops thus, they turned to the Canadians for help.

Canadian troops fighting at Vimy Ridge

Battle of Passchendaele

The Battle of Passchendaele occured as a result of General Douglas Haig's insistence on breaching the German front lines on Ypres, Belgium. This battle was a part of the Third Battle of Ypres. British, Australian and New Zealand forces have all tried to attack German forces at this location but, they were all unsuccessful. On October 26, 1917, the artillery barages began and on November 10 of that year, the Canadian soldiers had won the battle.

Canada's Hundred Days

In response to Germany's last attempt to attack the Allies before the arrival of US troops, Canada launched a series of attacks on Germany's strongholds such as the city of Amiens, Canal du Nord, town of Cambrai, Valenciennes and city of Mons. At 11:00 am, November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed and the Great War ended.

A map of Canada's Hundred Days

Why did Canada participate in WWI?

  1. At the time, Canada was a colony of the British Empire and therefore, Britain's participation in the war meant that Canada too, had to enter the war in Europe.
  2. Before, Canada had not been recognised by other countries as a powerful nation so, Canada wanted to use WWI as an opportunity to introduce itself to the international community.
  3. Canadians wanted to participate in the war as many of them were born in Britain and hence, felt the obligation to aid their 'homeland' in the war.

Key People

  • Canadian Major-General Arthur Currie
  • British Lieutenant-General Julian Byng
  • British General Douglas Haig
(from left to right) Julian Byng, Douglas Haig, Arthur Currie

How did Canada's participation in WWI contribute to its autonomy?

  • Through Canada's various successes in WWI, it was able to demonstrate its strength as a nation and thereby, show Britain that it was capable of becoming an independent country.
  • By the end of WWI, at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Canada demanded Britain to not sign on its behalf but instead, have its own separate signature on the treaty. This action signifies to other nations that Canada is not entirely submissive Britain; it is a British dominion, not a colony. Additionally, Canada requested to have a separate seat on the League of Nations. This indicated to the international community that Canada wanted to become a distinct nation that was not under the rule of Britain.

The Chanak Affair, 1922

In the early 1920s, after Turkey's defeat in WWI, France, Britain and Greece occupied the majority of West Turkey; Britain was in control of Chanak - a small seaport on the Dardanelles. In 1922, a nationalist Turkish group began revolting against the Allies' authority in their country and therefore, they drove Greece out of Turkey and threatened to attack British troops at Chanak. On September 15, 1922, Britain requested all its dominions to send troops to aid in the conflict that was occurring. Canada, as a British dominion, is unofficially obligated to comply with Britain's demand but, Canada's Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King was hesitant in sending Canadian troops to Turkey. On September 18, King's Cabinet agreed that Parliament should have authority over such decision. Their reluctance continued and when the issue was finally resolved, the war in Turkey had ended.

Why did the Chanak Affair occur?

  1. Canada's willingness to become an independent nation urged it to refrain from abiding to Britain's demand for. By choosing to make their own decisions, Canada establishes its independence from the British Empire. It explicitly communicates its willingness to be detached from Britain's affairs.
  2. After WWI, Canada suffered many casualties and thus, the country especially soldiers, did not have the morale to participate in another war.
  3. The stationing of British troops in Western Turkey precipitated tension within the region notably, amongst nationalist Turkish troops. The strain eventually boiled into the conflict between Turkey and Britain.

Key People

  • Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King of Canada
  • Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain
(from left to right) PM William Lyon Mackenzie King, PM David Lloyd George

How did the Chanak Affair contribute to Canada's autonomy?

  1. Canada was able to show Britain that it wanted greater independence from the Empire through its unwillingness to send troops to the Turkey. Furthermore, their absence in the war sent a message to other nations saying that Canada is moving towards autonomy and does not necessarily stand under the British command.
  2. Before, Canada had been reluctant to involve itself in conflict that did not directly threaten Britain although, this decision in particular indicated to Britain and other countries that Canada is determined to achieve independence by detaching itself to Britain’s affairs.

Halibut Treaty, 1923

The Halibut Treaty is a Treaty between Canada and America regarding fishing practices in the Pacific Ocean. In 1923, over-fishing by American and Canadian fisheries caused a drastic decrease in the amount of Halibut that remained in the ocean. Despite so, firms were hesitant to diminish their production as commercial fishing was a major industry at the time. The Government of America and Canada formed this treaty in order to preserve fishing stocks. The Treaty implemented a closed season for commercial fishing - from November 16 to February 15 fisheries were prohibited from fishing; violation of this treaty can lead to a penalty of seizure. Also, the Halibut Treaty developed the International Fisheries Commissions (IFC) - an organisation aimed to contribute to the regulation of large-scale commercial fishing. Normally, it was required for Britain to have a seat or a signatory in a deal involving its Dominions but, Canada negotiated this deal entirely by themselves.

Why was the Halibut Treaty Created?

  • The Halibut Treaty was established to prevent unsustainable commercial fishing and improve environmental health in the Pacific Ocean by preserving fish stocks.
  • Canada had negotiated and signed this Treaty independently of Britain because Canada wanted greater sovereignty in their international affairs. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King believed that the Halibut Treaty was only relevant to Canada and America and therefore, Britain's involvement would be redundant.
First transcontinental shipment of Pacific halibut, caught by schooner Oscar and Hattie, Tacoma, September 20, 1888

Key People

  • Canada's minister of Marine and Fisheries Ernest Lapointe
  • US Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes
  • Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King
Pacific Halibut Management Areas

Contribution to Canadian autonomy

  • The Halibut Treaty was the first Treaty that Canada signed independently from Britain and hence, marked its autonomy in foreign relation - an aspect of politics that Canada did not have authority over before as it was a dominion of Britain. During the signing of this treaty, Canada had the rights of an independent sovereign state and therefore, showing Britain its demands and capability of self-governing. It was a major milestone in Canada’s journey towards complete independence.
  • Treaty confirmed Canada's economic and political place in North America. Its sovereign participation in a significant pan-North American treaty and its control over a large industry such as fishery gave Canada further economic power in North America. This gave Canada strength to challenge Britain’s control over Canada.

King-Byng Crisis, 1925-26

On October 29, 1925, Canada held a federal election to re-elect Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and the Conservatives won against the Liberals and the Progressives. King refused to overturn his power to the Conservative Party and therefore, he turned to the House of Commons and urged Parliament to decide on the outcome of the election. As the new House was mainly Progressives, it supported King’s decision in hopes of gaining another chance at winning the election but on June 25, 1916 this conditional endorsement ended. Before this date, Prime Minister King had requested Governor General Julian Byng of Vimy to dissolve Parliament and host new elections, to which Byng denied. Moreover, the British Governor General directly intervened in the political makeup of Canada by asking the Conservative party to form a Parliament under the leadership of Arthur Meighen. Prime Minister King was forced to comply to the Governor’s demand and he resigned. Arthur Meighen’s new arrangement passed four out of five votes and subsequently, he asked Governor General Byng to dissolve parliament and have a re-election; this time, Byng agreed. During the re-election, Meighen’s campaign centered around the allegation that Liberals were corrupted and unable to operate the country effectively. On the other hand, King’s campaigned focused on the negativity of British interference - an issue that resonated with the Canadian public. As a result, King won the election and was Prime Minister once more.

Why did the King-Byng Crisis happen?

  1. The crisis was initiated by Byng's disagreement to King's offer to dissolve the pre-existing Parliament and re-elect new members. His fear of approving an unprecedented motion set off a chain of events that resulted in King's re-election and public disapproval of British interference in Canadian politics.
  2. The general reluctance to turn over power provoked actions that contributed to the King-Byng Crisis. For example, King's refusal to give up his Prime Minister position to the Conservatives caused him to request the dissolution of parliament and subsequently, caused Arthur Meighen's appointment to Prime Minister. Meighen's unruly authority induced negative opinions on British intervention
  3. Governor General Byng's decision to form a conservative government under the leadership of Arthur Meighen enraged Canadians and therefore, allowed King's campaign to thrive resulting in his re-election. More importantly, it created distrust for Britain in the Canadian public.
  4. Canadians’ disapproval of British intervention in their political system compelled them to respond to King’s campaign and thus, they elected him as Prime Minister.

Key People

  • Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King
  • Governor General Julian Byng of Vimy
  • Conservative leader Arthur Meighen
(left to right) William Lyon Mackenzie King, Julian Byng, Arthur Meighen

How did the King-Byng Crisis contribute to Canada's autonomy?

  1. Through the re-election of Prime Minister King, Canadians exhibited their disapproval of British intervention thence, sending a clear message to British authority that Canada wants to and should be able to administer their own political affairs.
  2. The result of Arthur Meighen's designation proved that Britain's interference in Canada was not necessarily beneficial. It created discontent amongst Canadians regarding Britain's authority in Canada. This urged Canadians to become more insistent in demanding their autonomy.
  3. William King's success in his re-election showed Britain that Canada was adept in governing itself and did not require British support.
  4. Many historians argue that the King-Byng Crisis commenced a constitutional reform in Canada by contributing to the Balfourt Report - a declaration that affirms that Britain and its dominions are "equal in status" . In 1926, at the Imperial conference, the King-Byng Crisis helped legalize the Balfourt Report and helped Canada become an independent country.

Statute of Westminster, 1931

After WWI, Canada struggled to become an autonomous nation through various ways. The Statute of Westminster is the product of their accumulated efforts. In 1929, Britain hosted a conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation where dominions of Britain were invited to discuss improvements to the structure of the empire. Canada’s Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, attended this conference with Dr. O. D. Skelton. At the conference Skelton, argued for Canada’s complete independence from the Empire and was met with reluctance from Britain. However, the combined insistence for autonomy from other British dominions compelled Britain to agree. In December 11, 1931, Britain passed the statute declaring “self-governing dominions were autonomous communities within the British Empire”. The dominions had complete legal power over their country but remained allies of crown through the commonwealth. The Statute of Westminster allowed nations to pass, repeal and amend laws within their countries without the consent of Britain. Nonetheless, Canada was unable to amend, repeal the British North America Acts, 1876 - Canada’s Constitution - until 1982. Also, the Judicial Committee of Privy Council in Britain remained the final court of appeal for Canada until 1942. Even so, the Statute of Westminster is still considered today as Canada’s declaration of independence.

Why did The Statue of Westminster occur?

  • Lord Balfour proposed the ODL conference which allowed Dominions of Britain the opportunity to voice their wish to be independent nations. Their opinions helped Britain consider the terms in the Statute of Westminster which contributed to the formation the declaration stated their independence.
  • The terms of autonomy on the Statute of Westminster was achieved by PM Mackenzie King and Dr. O. D. Skelton determination to make Canada a sovereign state. For instance, in the ODL conference in 1920 Skelton firmly pushed for Canada’s independence from the British empire. Similarly at the 1926 Imperial Conference, he remained steadfast with his demand to make Canada autonomous.
  • Findings and proposals at the ODL conference urged Britain to sign the Statute of Westminster.
  • The unanimous push for autonomy from the Dominions pressured Britain into granting its dominions independence from Britain by signing the Statute of Westminster. However, the shift in political power in each dominion was gradual; Britain still had some control over the nations but fundamentally, the nations were sovereign states.
  • The persistence in Canada for independence showcased through the Chanak Affair, Halibut Treaty and King-Byng Crisis urged Britain to agree. Further resistance from Britain could have result in increased tensions in Canada and thus, a strife might arise. It was in Britain's interest to sign the Statute of Westminster.

Key People

  • Britain’s Foreign Minister Lord Balfour
  • Canada's prime minister Mackenzie King
  • Head of the Department of External Affairs Dr. O.D. Skelton
O.D. Skelton (standing right) and Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King conferring on the Statute of Westminster

How Did This Contribute to Canadian Autonomy

  • Statute of Westminster was the most momentous landmark in Canada’s endeavor towards total sovereignty. It is seen as the declaration of independence as it gave Canada its political sovereignty both in local and international affairs. Canada was and is able to pass and revoke laws without consent from British authority. Even though, the British North American Act, 1876 could not be altered until 1982, the Statute of Westminster gave Canada considerable liberty over their policies. It plays a crucial role in shaping modern Canadian politics. By freeing Canada from British rule, the Statue of Westminster allowed Canada to evolve and thrive as a distinct and autonomous country.
Political cartoon depicting the Statue of Westminister


  • The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Statute of Westminster." Encyclopædia Britannica. July 20, 1998. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • "Canada's Declaration of Independence." Canada's History - Canada's History. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • Colyer, Jill, Jack Cecillon, Graham A. Draper, Margaret Hoogeveen, and Peter Seixas. Creating Canada: a history - 1914 to the present. Toronto, ON.: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2010.
  • Hillmer, Norman. "Chanak Affair." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • "Motion of no confidence - Glossary page." UK Parliament. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • Hillmer, Norman. "Statute of Westminster." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed April 13, 2017.
  • Hillmer, Norman. "Statute of Westminster: Canada's Declaration of Independence." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • Scott, Jeff, and Norman Hillmer. "Halibut Treaty." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • Forsey, Eugene A. "King-Byng Affair." The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed April 11, 2017.


Created with images by MSVG - "Toronto"

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