Prior to 1956, Canadian engagement in United Nations peacekeeping had been limited to observer missions. However, after the Suez Crisis erupted, the UN formed the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF I), and volunteers from Canada’s military embarked upon the nation’s first peacekeeping mission.
Trading in snow for sand, they experienced everything from the dust of the desert clogging the engines of their white armoured jeeps, to finding the body of a Palestinian floating in their water tower.
The conflict lasted a decade, with Canada offering 1,007 men, one sixth of the total participating soldiers, and cementing itself as a nation synonymous with peacekeeping.
“We were the first to prove that peacekeeping could work,” says Gord Jenkins, a retired major who served in the 1960s.
To date, Canada has performed in over 30 peacekeeping missions, offering upwards of 120,000 troops to various missions around the world.
Over the last 50 years, developments have been made to better equip those who volunteer for UN missions by educating them on regional customs, languages, and socio-religious expectations, a vast improvement compared to the compass training that the UNEF I crew received. The uniform has also evolved. Those in UNEF I wore a thick, dark brown dress identical to the British, while modern day peacekeepers have tan khaki options for warmer climates. The only element of the uniform that hasn’t changed is the blue beret.