During World War I, 620,000 Canadian soldiers served—and over 10 percent of them died. In honor of the Canadian men and women who bravely served the British Commonwealth during the war, here are 14 fantastic propaganda posters. (Unless otherwise stated, all images are courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.)
1. Join The Canadian Forestry Battalion
Those who didn't want to fight (or couldn’t sign up for the army due to health issues or old age) but still wanted to serve their country could enroll in the military by joining the Canadian Forestry Battalion, which cleared areas for camps and air strips. The story of the Forestry Battalion is pretty interesting and you can read more about it here.
2. Boys to the Farm
Those who wanted to serve but didn’t want to fight or chop down trees could even enroll as a Soldier of the Soil, which was operated by the Canadian Food Board and established in 1918. Participants were assigned and trained to help increase the food production during the war and were paid between $15 and $40 a month, equivalent to around $200 and $550 today. You can read more about the Soldiers of the Soil here.
3. Fight For Her
You might recognize the image in this poster. After all, artist Hal Ross Perrigard based this 1915 poster on Whistler’s famous painting of his mother. What an American-born, British-based painter and his mother had to do with the Irish Canadian Rangers, I can’t tell you, but it does show that great art is appreciated even during major war periods.
4. Only Strong, Healthy and Well Educated Men
The Canadian Navy wouldn't take just anyone: “Only strong, healthy and well educated men and boys are required and they must be of good character.” Thankfully there were plenty of other options for those who were ill educated (or, presumably, of bad character).
5. Shall We Wait Whilst Our People Burn?
Naturally, French Canadians had their own propaganda posters in French. This one roughly translates to “Shall We Wait Whilst Our People Burn?” and pushed viewers to enroll in the 178th French Canadian Battalion.
6. This is What It Will Take to Win
Image courtesy of the Canadian Library and Archives
Here is another French Canadian poster, this one telling the story of Lieutenant-Colonel Menard, D.S.O, who received five wounds in five hours and still pushed the attackers back. Even after he was immobilized by his injuries, he helped organize an air raid to save his men. The top of the poster roughly translates to “This is what it will take to win.”
7. Help Save Lives
Image courtesy of the Canadian Library and Archives
Canada didn’t stop with posters in English and French; they also made posters urging those in the country’s Jewish communities to “Help Save Lives.”
8. Our Boys Want Smokes
Here’s something you’d never see today: A fundraising poster promising that “all the money goes for smokes.” But when this poster was created by artist Thomas Bert, cigarettes were provided to all military men free of charge—in most cases, as part of their daily rations. With that in mind, it’s only logical to ask civilians to help donate to a necessary part of a soldier’s rations the way this poster does.
9. Keep All Canadians Busy
While it may seem silly to see a 1918 propaganda poster motivating everyone to support the war effort illustrated with a beaver, remember that the animals have long been an icon of the country and were even named the national animal in 1975. Plus, it makes sense to tell everyone to keep busy with a busy beaver.
10. Buy Thrift Stamps
The same way squirrels save nuts for a rainy day, citizens, especially children, were encouraged to buy low-cost Thrift Stamps, which could be traded up for War Savings Stamps, which could eventually be traded in for a War Savings Certificate Bond that would mature at a 4.5 percent interest rate. It took 160 Thrift Stamps to earn a War Savings Certificate Bond, so kids really would have to hoard them if they wanted to make the most of their future investments.
11. Buy Victory Bonds
This one was targeted at the ladies, pointing out that if women in France must go plow their fields alone, the least housewives in Canada could do was buy some war bonds to show their support.
12. Are YOU Breaking the Law?
Presumably food hoarders didn’t actually label their excess goods, but the point of this poster is pretty obvious to anyone familiar with the concept of war-time food rationing. During WWI, the crime was very serious and hoarders could face fines of up to 1000 Canadian Dollars—around $14,000 Canadian or $13,500 US in today’s money, a lot of scratch for a little extra sugar.
13. We Are Saving You, You Save Food
The government didn’t just try to scare off food hoarders, they also tried to play off of their patriotic sensibilities reminding them that while the boys in battle are working to “save you,” you had better “save food” and that “well-fed soldiers will win the war.”
14. Canada's Pork Opportunity
Propaganda posters usually revolve around wartime service—helping the soldiers and buying war bonds and the like—but this one focuses on agricultural and economic opportunities provided by the war. In 1918, the Canadian Food Board hired E. Henderson to create this poster to help motivate farmers to sell more pork to England.
Whether you live in Canada or are just enjoying our coverage of the nation's birthday, Happy Canada Day dear readers!