A Military History of Canada


305 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88830-276-2





Reviewed by S.R.G. Brown

Shaun R.G. Brown was a military historian in Kitchener, Ontario.


Canada’s most prolific writer of military history has produced yet another excellent work, which traces the country’s military experience from the French regime to the October crisis. The thesis is quite straightforward — that, contrary to what most of us like to believe, we are a “very military people.” War has shaped our national destiny more than any other single factor.

The battles of colonial succession are concisely catalogued. In the French regime war was indeed the staple industry, at least as important, if not more so, as fur or fish. After the conquest, the Americans became the centre of Canadian military concern . Morton views Confederation, in fact, as a military alliance to thwart American expansionism.

The Boer War, the Great War, and the World War are the real building blocks of national identity for Canadians, according to Morton. His approach is neither militarist nor anti-militarist; there is heroism, but he does not shield the reader from the slaughter, gangrene, and scurvy of war.

One of the problems facing Canadians as they view their military history is the perennial problem of the national defence of so vast a country. It started at Confederation. The British favoured Confederation because it permitted them a dignified withdrawal. We Canadians, flushed with success, turned imperialist, snatched the West from the grasp of the Yankees, and treated the inhabitants the way European colonizers had customarily treated natives. But, having achieved this almost miraculous land grab, we have constantly wrestled with the ambiguities of a small nation attempting to defend a vast area and to protect our sovereignty under the collective defence umbrella necessary to achieve this end.

Morton provides a valuable critical bibliography from the time of the Ancient Régime to the Cold War. This is not without significance, for A Military History of Canada should be viewed as an introduction to a rather complex subject. Morton provides us with the details, but the length of the book reveals only a cursory factual analysis; no doubt this was the intent. The historian, the student, the military aficionado will have to look elsewhere to develop a clearer picture of Canadian military history; but Morton’s book should come at the beginning of the search.


Morton, Desmond, “A Military History of Canada,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36272.