The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          


World Wars

First World War


The Battle of Vimy Ridge after a painting by Richard Jack. Canadian War Museum.

On August 4, 1914, Britain entered the First World War by declaring war on Germany. The British declaration of war automatically brought Canada into the war, because Canada was still considered a colony. However, the Canadian government had the freedom to determine the country's level of involvement in the war. Canada eventually sent four divisions to fight on the Western Front.

In the later stages of the war, the Canadian Corps was regarded as among the most effective and respected of the armies on the Western Front; Canadian divisions were larger than British divisions by 1917 due to manpower shortages (though manpower problems would cause Canada to scrap plans for a second Canadian Corps and two additional divisions as well as institute conscription for overseas service). Indeed, in the aftermath of the Battle of the Somme, the Canadian Corps developed a reputation as shock troops which were feared by the Germans. The Canadian army even had its own nick-name les durs cuire (hard to cook; kill) meaning the Canadians were very hard to demoralize and defeat. Given this fact, in 1916 the United Kingdom even made use of specific Canadian help to defend the British colonies of the West Indies from the German navy with many Canadian forces being stationed on the island of Saint Lucia to help defend from a possible German navy attack.

Without conscription, the Canadian force was limited to those dedicated enough to enlist. The high point of Canadian military achievement came at the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, during which Canadian troops captured a fortified German hill that had resisted British and French attacks earlier in the war. Vimy, as well as the success of the Canadian flying aces William Barker and Billy Bishop, helped to give Canada a new sense of identity. This translated into greater autonomy, with Canada sending its own delegates to the Treaty of Versailles negotiations in 1919, joining the League of Nations as a member in 1921, and being formally granted autonomy via the Statute of Westminster in 1931.

The other major combatants had all introduced conscription to replace the massive casualties they were suffering. Spearheaded by Sir Robert Borden who wished to maintain the continuity of Canada's military contribution and with a burgeoning pressure to introduce and enforce conscription, the Military Service Act was ratified. Although reaction to conscription was favourable in English Canada (as well as at the front), the idea was deeply unpopular in Quebec. In the end, conscription raised about 120,000 soldiers, of whom about 47,000 actually went overseas. The Conscription Crisis of 1917 did much to highlight the divisions between French and English-speaking Canadians in Canada.

Despite the rancour, the Conscription Crisis of 1917 did not hinder Prime Minister Robert Borden's political career, for in the following election of that year, Borden's Union government won 153 seats, nearly all from English Canada. However, of Quebec's 65 seats, Borden's government won only 3.

For a nation of eight million people, Canada's war effort was widely regarded as remarkable. A total of 619,636 men and women served in the Canadian forces in the First World War, and of these 66,655 were killed and another 172,950 were wounded.

In 1919, Canada sent an expeditionary force to Siberia to aid the White Russians in the Russian Civil War. These troops were based in Vladivostok and saw little combat before they withdrew, along with other foreign forces.

Canadian sacrifices are commemorated at eight memorials in France and Belgium. Two of the eight are unique in design: the giant white Vimy Memorial and the distinctive Brooding Soldier at the Saint Julien Memorial. The other six follow a standard pattern of granite monuments surrounded by a circular path. They are the Hill 62 Memorial and Passchendaele Memorial in Belgium, and the Bourlon Wood Memorial, Courcelette Memorial, Dury Memorial, and Le Quesnel Memorial in France. There are also separate war memorials to commemorate the actions of the soldiers of Newfoundland in the Great War. The largest are the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial and the National War Memorial in St. John's. Newfoundland did not join Confederation until 1949.

Second World War


Canadian forces in Italy advancing from the Gustav Line to the Hitler Line.

Following the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Canada's Parliament supported the government's decision to declare war on Germany on September 10, one week after the United Kingdom and France. Canadian airmen played a small but significant important role in the Battle of Britain, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian merchant marine played a crucial role in the Battle of the Atlantic. C Force, two Canadian infantry battalions were involved in the failed defence of Hong Kong. Troops of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division also played a leading role in the disastrous Dieppe Raid in August 1942. The 1st Canadian Division and tanks of the independent 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade landed on Sicily in July 1943 and after a thirty-eight day campaign there, took part in the successful Allied invasion of Italy. Canadian forces played an important role in the long advance north through Italy, eventually coming under their own corps headquarters after Fifth Canadian Armoured Division joined them on the line in early 1944 after the costly battles on the Moro River and at Ortona.

On June 6, 1944, the 3rd Canadian Division (supported by tanks of the independent 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade) landed on Juno Beach in the Battle of Normandy. Canadian Airborne troops had also landed earlier in the day behind the beaches. Resistance on Juno was fierce, and casualties were high in the assault waves, in particular the first assault waves which sustained a 50 percent casualty rate. By day's end, however, the Canadians had made the deepest penetrations inland of any of the five seaborne invasion forces. The Canadians went on to play an important role in the subsequent fighting in Normandy, with the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division coming ashore in July and the 4th Armoured Division in August. In the meantime, both a corps headquarters (II Canadian Corps) and eventually an army headquarters - for the first time in Canadian military history - were activated. One of the most important Canadian contributions to the war effort was in the Battle of the Scheldt, where First Canadian Army defeated an entrenched German force at great cost to help open Antwerp to Allied shipping.

First Canadian Army fought in two more large campaigns; the Rhineland in February and March 1945, clearing a path to the Rhine River in anticipation of the assault crossing of that obstacle, and the subsequent battles on the far side of the Rhine in the last weeks of the war. The I Canadian Corps returned to Northwest Europe from Italy in early 1945, and as part of a reunited First Canadian Army assisted in the liberation of The Netherlands (including the rescue of many Dutch from near-starvation conditions) and the invasion of Germany itself.

Of a population approximately 11.5 million, 1.1 million Canadians served in the armed forces in the Second World War. Of these, an officially recorded total of 42,042 members of the armed forces gave their lives, and another 55,000 were wounded. Many others shared the suffering and hardship of war. In line with other Commonwealth countries, a women's corps entitled the Canadian Women's Army Corps was established in order to release men for front-line duties. The Corps existed from 1941 to 1946, was re-raised in 1948 and finally disbanded in 1964.

Multilateralism and peacekeeping

Soon after the end of the Second World War, the Cold War began. As a founding member of NATO and a signatory to the NORAD treaty with the US, Canada committed itself to the alliance against the Communist bloc. Canadian troops were stationed in Germany throughout the Cold War, and Canada joined with the Americans to erect defences against Soviet attack, such as the DEW Line. As a middle power, Canadian policy makers realized that Canada could do little militarily on its own, and thus a policy of multilateralism was adopted whereby Canada would only join military efforts as part of a large coalition. Canada also chose to stay out of several wars, despite the participation of close allies, most notably the Vietnam War and the Second Iraq War, although Canada lent indirect support and Canadians citizens served in foreign armies in both conflicts. The postwar period saw a major reorganization when, in 1968, the three forces were merged into the Canadian Forces.

Canada in Korea

After the Second World War, Canada rapidly demobilized. When the Korean War broke out, Canada needed several months to bring its military forces up to strength, and eventually formed part of British Commonwealth Forces Korea. Canadian land forces thus missed most of the early back-and-forth campaigns because they did not arrive until 1951, when the attrition phase of the war had largely started. Canadian troops fought as part of the 1st Commonwealth Division, and distinguished themselves at the Battle of Kapyong and in other land engagements. HMCS Haida and other ships of the Royal Canadian Navy were in active service in the Korean conflict.

Canada sent 26,791 troops to fight in Korea. There were 1,558 Canadian casualties, including 516 dead. Korea has often been described as "The Forgotten War", because for most Canadians it is overshadowed by the Canadian contributions to the two world wars. Canada is a signatory to the original 1953 armistice, but did not keep a garrison in South Korea after 1955.


Closely related to Canada's commitment to multilateralism has been its strong support for peacekeeping efforts. Canadian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lester B. Pearson is considered to be the father of modern United Nations Peacekeeping, and Canada has a long history of participation in these missions. Canada participated in every UN peacekeeping effort from their beginning until 1989, and has since then continued to play a significant role. More than 125,000 Canadians have served in some 50 UN peacekeeping missions since 1949, with 116 deaths.

Since 1995, however, Canadian direct participation in UN peacekeeping efforts has greatly declined. In July 2006, for instance, Canada ranked 51st on the list of UN peacekeepers, contributing 130 peacekeepers out of a total UN deployment of over 70,000.That number decreased largely because Canada began to direct its participation to UN-sanctioned military operations through NATO, rather than directly to the UN. The number of Canadian soldiers on UN-sanctioned operations in July 2006 was 2,859

The first Canadian peacekeeping mission, even before the creation of the formal UN system, was a 1948 mission to Kashmir. Other important missions include the long stay in Cyprus, observation missions in the Sinai and Golan Heights, and the NATO mission in Bosnia. The 1993 Canadian response to Operation Medak pocket in Bosnia was the largest battle fought by Canadian forces since the Korean War. One of the darkest moments in recent Canadian military history occurred during the humanitarian mission to Somalia in 1993, when Canadian soldiers tortured a Somali teenager to death, leading to the Somalia Affair. Following an inquiry, the elite Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded and the reputation of the Canadian Forces suffered within Canada.

Canadian Forces Europe

Canada maintained a mechanized infantry brigade in West Germany from the 1950s (originally the 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade, later named 4 Combat Group and 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade) to the 1990s as part of Canada's NATO commitments. This brigade was maintained at close to full strength and was equipped with Canada's most advanced vehicles and weapons systems as it was anticipated the brigade might have to move quickly in the event of a Warsaw Pact invasion of the west. The brigade was augmented by Militia soldiers from Canada and for a time even Royal Canadian Army Cadets were permitted to serve in the brigade for short periods

The Post Cold War World

Gulf War

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The 1991 Gulf War was a conflict between Iraq and a coalition force of 34 nations, led by the US. The result was a decisive victory of the coalition forces. Canada was one of the first nations to agree to condemn Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and promptly agreed to join the US-led coalition. In August, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sent the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan to enforce the trade blockade against Iraq. The supply ship HMCS Protecteur was sent to aid the gathering coalition forces. When the UN authorized full use of force in the operation, Canada sent a CF-18 squadron with support personnel. The nation sent a field hospital to deal with casualties from the ground war. When the air war began, Canada's planes were integrated into the coalition force and provided air cover and attacked ground targets. This was the first time since the Korean War that its forces had participated in combat operations. Canada suffered no casualties during the conflict, but since its end, many veterans have complained of suffering from Gulf War Syndrome.

Invasion of Afghanistan

Canada joined a U.S.-led coalition in the 2001 Attack on Afghanistan. The war was a response to the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks, with the goal to defeat the Taliban government and rout Al-Qaeda. Canada sent special forces and ground troops to the conflict. In this war, a Canadian sniper set the world record for longest distance kill. In early 2003, Canadian JTF2 troops were photographed taking Afghan prisoners, sparking a debate of the Geneva Conventions. After the war, Canada formed an important part of the NATO-led stabilization force, ISAF. In November 2005, Canadian military participation shifted from ISAF in Kabul to Operation Archer, a part of Operation Enduring Freedom in and around Khandahar. As of July 2007, 66 Canadian soldiers and 1 Canadian diplomat, have been killed in Afghanistan. (See:Canadian Forces casualties in Afghanistan) On May 17, 2006, Captain Nichola Goddard of the 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery became Canada's first female combat arms casualty. One of the most notable battles that the Canadian Forces have fought in Afghanistan thus far is the Canadian-led Operation Medusa in which the second battle of Panjwaii was fought. Canada was also the main allied combatant in the first but less intense battle of Panjwaii

As of 2006, the Canadian troops have taken on an extended role in combat operations in southern Afghanistan, meeting Taliban forces in open conflict. A two-year mission extension was passed by parliament, signifying a lasting Canadian commitment to Afghanistan.

Invasion of Iraq (2003)

In 2003, Canada refused to take part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq unless it was approved by the United Nations. This decision, popular in most of Canada, upset the administration of American president George W. Bush. Concurrently, Canada deployed some additional troops to the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, some claim that it incidentally freed up some American and British troops for assignment in Iraq. However, with a contingent of only 2600 soldiers in Afghanistan, this is hard to prove. Canada continues to have warships in the Persian Gulf area as part of Operation Altair. Their presence is justified by Canada's commitment to Operation Enduring Freedom. Small numbers of Canadian soldiers on exchange to American units participated in the invasion of Iraq.

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