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The Fate of the Empire

Course Code
Heidi Bohaker

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HIS263 The Fate of the Empire, 1914 - 1939 Thursday February 17th
September 1939
September 1st, 1939, Adolf Hitlers troops entered Poland
France and England declare war on September 3rd
September 10th, Canada declares war
Two things to notice about this time line:
1.Canadas declaration of war signalled an important change (Canada didnt issue
a declaration of war to enter WWI)
The purpose of this lecture: to explore what changed between WWI and
WWII, enabling Canada to make its own declaration of war
2.Canada declares war one week later than Britain
Previously we have explored Canadas relationship with Britain in terms of
institutions and ideas
Traditional institutions formally tied Canada to the empire, but the ideas of
Canadians themselves tied them to the British empire
Well look at the way institutions and ideas shaped Canadas ties to the
empire and the world between 1914-39 to explain why they waited a week
Canada and the Empire
During WWI, Robert Borden was prime minster
Believed that a unified imperial foreign policy with coordinate autonomy (still
formally part of the empire but with the opportunity to display autonomous
However, Borden had relatively success during WWI and Canada had relatively little
say in the British war effort other than send troops
Borden did, however, leverage promises of more troops for a greater say in the
running of the war effort
From about 1917 and onwards, Borden sees increasing success in leveraging a role
for Canada
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HIS263 The Fate of the Empire, 1914 - 1939 Thursday February 17th
In 1917, Britain convenes the Imperial War Cabinet, a meeting of all of the
dominions to discuss the war effort (so, dominion representation)
Though Britain continues to be in control of the effort, this means that Canada has
access to key information
At the same time, Britain holds a Imperial War conference to discuss the state of the
The Imperial War Conference passes a series of resolutions
Resolution IX says that the dominions are autonomous, but there is little
time to figure out what this means and they’d figure it out after the war
When the war came to an end, the question was raised
Three key dynamics that emerge after the war:
1.Canada begins to get a more autonomous role in setting its own foreign policy , at
least in practice. For example, Canada is given a separate representative to the
Paris Peace Conference (Canada would normally have been represented by
Britain). Canada signs the Treaty of Versailles separately. Example of pristine
ambiguity, because on one hand its symbolic (first time Canada has signed for
itself) but on the other hand its legally irrelevant (as soon as Britain signed the
treaty, Canada by default agreed to the treaty, it had no real say). Further
example of Canadas more autonomous role in setting its own foreign policy was
the League of Nations, founded in 1919. Canada gets its own seat on the League
of Nations. Another example comes in 1923, with the Pacific Halibut Treaty,
involving the US and Canada. When they agreed to this treaty, Canada signed it
alone (usually Britain would co-sign treaties and have the final say). The first
time that a clear distinction is drawn between Canadian and British diplomacy.
Its also a symbol of the way Canadas interests are partly continental.
2.The failure of a more cooperative/coordinated imperial foreign policy . Canada
has a particular problem. Its a federal state divided by French and English
Canadians and the reluctance of French Canadians to be drawn into imperial
issues. The second problem is even bigger. Leaving aside domestic politics, the
dominions have little in common with each other. Its one thing to theorize about
a unified British domino with a single coordinated foreign policy, but its quite
another to bring all of those unique dominions together. Anglo-Japanese
Alliance comes up for renewal in the early 20s, and there was a debate among the
dominions about whether it should be renewed. Major issue in the Imperial
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