It is difficult to determine with any kind of precision the levels of participation of Canadians of French origins in the Canadian Expeditionary Force of the First World War.  History books tell us, and correctly so, that French-Canadians did not demonstrate much enthousiasm for that war which some considered the business of England.  At the same time, relations between French-Canadians and their English-speaking brethren in the early XXth century were strained.  We must remember the imposition of Rule 17 of the Ontario Education Act in 1912 which forbade the use of French as a language of instruction in all schools of the province of Ontario after grade 2.  Thus, the question of the French-Canadian participation in the war effort must be understood within this poisoned climate.

In 1964, Col. G.W.L. Nicholson published the official history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  One passage in this lengthy tome is worth quoting in the context of the present discussion:

It is impossible to authenticate the various "statistics" concerning French-Canadian enlistments that were bandied about in the press and on the public platform during this period and since. In official military records all Canadian-born were treated alike as "Canadian". When attesting a man on enlistment into the Canadian Expeditionary Force no attempt was made to establish his nationality beyond recording the country of his birth. The only question on the Attestation Form bearing directly on this point read: "In what town, township or parish and in what country were you born?" Thus when Sir Robert Borden gave the House of Commons figures "furnished to me by the Department of Militia and Defence", showing that up to 31 March 1918 there had been despatched overseas, 147,505 Canadians born "of British descent", and 16,268 Canadian-born "of French descent", the accuracy of his information must be questioned. (Nicholson, Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, 1964:317)

The database of Pilons and Pillons from Canada who participated in the First World War, as developped by Pilon International and found elsewhere on this site, tends to support the proposition advanced by Col. Nicholson.  Moreover, these data offers us a way of qualifying the numbers used by Prime Minister Borden and thereby suggest more meaningful and reliable estimates of the levels of participation of French-Canadians in the Canadian war effort between 1914 and 1919.

Analysis of the Pilon/Pillon Soldiers Database
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