NOT By the Book: John Cowan

To RSVP for this class, please call (843) 723-9912 or email mstokenberry@charlestonlibrarysociety.org, there is no charge for this event.

Canada’s War of Independence, 1914-1918

The United States of America was born in a successful, if slightly reluctant, revolutionary war. The complete transition from colonial status to independence was a crucible of fire that lasted less than a decade. For Canada, its independence from Britain is usually explained as gradual, taking place over more than a century. This is probably a myth.

Canada’s war of independence was the First World War, the so-called Great War. Unlike the USA, Canada’s war of independence was not fought against the entity from which it became independent, but alongside it. Canada started the war as a colony of the UK and ended it as an ally.

At the outbreak of the war, Canada declared war on no-one. Britain did it for all of the Empire. The internally self-governing colony called Canada merely got to decide how it would react to being at war.

But by 1919 Canada had a seat at the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles, a seat in the League of Nations, and the right to be elected to the League Council. Effectively, Canada was a nation state, and somehow four and a half years had done what 47 earlier years had not. Canada had acted like a nation, and so came out of the Great War as a nation, with its own foreign policy and defence policy, and its own representatives abroad. How did this happen? What was Canada like before the war, and after it? How did it affect relations with the USA?

This story will be told over a morning in a combination of lectures and Q&A lasting from 9:30 until 12:30, with a coffee break in the middle. The speaker will be Dr. John Scott Cowan, who has formerly done two similar whole morning sessions for the CLS, one on piracy and terrorism, and the other on the War of 1812.

John Scott Cowan spent 24 years at the University of Ottawa as professor, chair of physiology, and then vice-president. He was vice-principal at Queen’s University before becoming principal of the Royal Military College of Canada (the university of the armed forces in Canada) from 1999 to 2008. He has also worked extensively in labour relations, and has flown some 64 aircraft types. Research in physiology co-existed with defence issues, starting with a 1963 monograph on defence policy. Recently he has focussed on asymmetric threats, piracy, the characteristics of the profession of arms, and defence education. He was president of the CDA Institute 2008-2012, and chair of the Defence Science Advisory Board of Canada 2010-2013. He is the Honorary Colonel of the Princess of Wales’ Own Regiment. He has been a member of the CLS since 2008.