On This Day: 29 August 1917

MSA Act 1917 News Headline.

The 1917 header that ran in newspaper articles and announcements across Canada.

The Military Service Act 1917

On this day, 100 years ago, Canada passed the Military Service Act mandating that all Canadian male citizens between the ages 0f 20 – 45 could be conscripted into military service. Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden, a Conservative, having visited the Western Front during the spring of 1917 saw first hand what the Canadian Expeditionary Force was facing reinforcing what his government knew towards the end of 1916 – Canada was not able to provide enough recruits to reinforce the four Canadian infantry divisions fighting in France and Flanders.

The Right Honourable Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian Prime Minister who brought conscription to Canada in 1917. (Wiki image)

The Right Honourable Sir Robert Borden, the Canadian Prime Minister who brought conscription to Canada in 1917. (Wiki image)

With the passing of the Act, rioting occurred in Quebec and Liberal leader Wilfrid Laurier refused to endorse Borden’s plan and started a campaign in vehement opposition of Borden’s compulsory service. Although the Military Service Act passed, 29 August 1917, the debate continued in the bitterly fought 17 December 1917 Canadian General Election. Borden, now at the helm of the Unionist Party, a coalition of pro-conscription Conservatives, former Liberals and independents defeated the Laurier Liberals. The conscription crisis election became known to some as the Khaki Election reinforced by the passing of two laws to ensure for Borden’s December victory.

Canadian Liberal opposition leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier fought against conscription in Canada. (Wiki image)

Canadian Liberal opposition leader Sir Wilfrid Laurier fought against conscription in Canada. (Wiki image)

The two laws Borden passed prior to the election ensured that Canadian citizens, who arrived in Canada after 1902 and were born in enemy lands, were no longer able to vote, nor were conscientious objectors. This first law, The Wartime Elections Act, passed 20 September 1917, also provided the vote to some women. In addition, Borden’s second law, granted soldiers serving overseas with the right to have their vote counted in the riding of their choice or, for the Party that the soldier voted for, to cast the soldier’s ballot in a riding of the Party’s choice. Borden won the election in a margin of 153 seats for the Unionists to 82 seats for the Liberals. The Unionists also won the popular vote with 56.93%.

Private George Lawrence Price was one of 24,132 Canadians conscripted under the MSA 1917 to serve on the Western Front. (Wiki image)

Private George Lawrence Price was one of 24,132 Canadians conscripted under the MSA 1917 who served on the Western Front. (Wiki image)

In January 1918 conscription commenced in Canada. Some 400,000 Canadian citizens registered under the Military Service Act 1917, but only 100,000 were actually conscripted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Of these men, just over 24,000 served as reinforcements to the four Canadian infantry divisions serving on the Western Front. One of these men was Private George Lawrence Price, 28th Battalion CEF, who lost his life 11 November 1918 when at 10:57 AM he was shot by a German sniper and died of his wounds two minutes prior to the Armistice at 11:00 AM. Price is considered the last soldier of the British Empire to be killed during the Great War.

The last Great War fatality of the British Empire, Private George Lawrence Price, St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, near Mons, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, 2006)

The last Great War fatality of the British Empire, Private George Lawrence Price, St. Symphorien Military Cemetery, near Mons, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, 2006)


About The Author

pferguson
In April 2007 Paul met Casey and Ian Williams of the Paradigm Motion Picture Company in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul has worked with Paradigm since 2009 as Producer and Historian. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was amazed by films such as David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.

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