Ottawa's Wartime Experience

By: David Suatac

As the capital of Canada, Ottawa’s wartime experiences were unique. During the First World War, the city’s industry revolved primarily around forestry and hydro. Although the declaration of war in 1914 meant that the civil service grew in importance, it was the Second World War that more readily marked the juncture when the city transformed from a small city into a government centre. The city’s population grew by tens of thousands throughout the war. Ottawa’s stature on the world stage also grew. At the beginning of the war, Ottawa contained only two high commissions; six years later, the city housed ten embassies and five high commissions. Twenty-four thousand government jobs were created, tripling the pre-war size of the federal service. As the federal service grew by leaps and bounds to better handle the country’s burgeoning war effort, the municipal government lent to its federal counterpart, rent-free, municipal land and buildings. New housing developments appeared along Carling Avenue in anticipation of the city’s returning veteran population, and the municipal government eagerly planned expensive and large-scale improvements to the city’s infrastructure post-war.

Ottawa also raised regiments for overseas service. Many of them fought at Vimy and in Normandy. One of Ottawa’s local regiments, known as the 43rd Regiment, Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles on the eve of First World War, raised enough men from the city and surrounding area for two battalions. One of them, the 38th Battalion, fought at Vimy with the 4th Canadian Division. In July 1915, Borden’s Motor Machine Gun Battery was raised in Ottawa. It also fought at Vimy with the 2nd Canadian Division. Another local regiment, The Governor General’s Foot Guards, contributed men to two battalions during the war, one of which fought with the 1st Canadian Division at Vimy.

During the Second World War, approximately 12, 000 soldiers from the city volunteered for service, many in the Governor General’s Foot Guards and with the Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles, renamed The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa (Machine Gun). The Governor General’s Foot Guards was converted into armour and re-designated the 21st Armoured Regiment. It landed in Normandy under this name. The Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa landed on D-Day with the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division.


1. Keshen, Jeff. “World War Two and the Making of Modern Ottawa.” In Keshen, Jeff, and St-Onge, Nicole, eds. Construire une capitale - Ottawa - Making a Capital. Ottawa, ON, CAN: University of Ottawa Press/Les Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa, 2001.

2. Taylor, John H. Ottawa: An Illustrated History. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company, 1986.

3. Borden Machine Gun Battery War Diary. April 1917. Page 8.        

4. DND publication – October 2010 –

5. DND publication – October 2010 -

Featured Image: Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

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