Boer War in South Africa was Canada’s first foreign conflict
In keeping with the Remembrance theme of the November meeting, guest speaker Kathleen Powell spoke about Canada’s role in the Boer War of 1899-1902 which was Canada’s first foreign war.
Kathleen is the Curator at the St. Catharines Museum and supervisor of historical services. She has a B.A. from Brock University where she is completing her master’s degree in history. Her current course of study is Canadian Nationalism and the Boer War in Niagara.
Kathleen explained that the South African or Boer War was fought between Great Britain, sup-ported by its colonies and Dominions, and the Afrikaner or Boer republics. The Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch, French and German refugees, moved into the gold rich interior but Britain went to war to protect the rights of the growing population of foreigners, including many British, in the area.
When war was declared, Canada’s Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier was reluctant to get involved but there was strong support for Britain from many Canadian newspapers while the French Canadian opposition was led by Henri Bourassa.
Although the cabinet was divided over the issue, Canada did authorize sending 1,000 volunteer infantrymen who set sail from Halifax on a converted cattle ship. The ship was badly overcrowded during the 30 day voyage and the poor conditions and disease took their toll before the ship ever landed in South Africa.
The Canadians were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel William Otter. They had no previous training in the field and had to cope without tent shelters which had been left behind when they marched north. Despite all that the Canadian troops won praise for their role in the first significant British victory in 1900 when the Boers surrendered at the battle of Paardeberg.
Just 270 Canadian troops died in battle, but the war claimed thousands of lives, including civilians in concentration camps as the result of disease and poor conditions. The death toll stood at 60,000 when the war ended on May 31, 1902.
Most Canadians returned home in 1900. Kathleen said that, in many ways, the Boer War, provided an indication of what was to come a few years later in World War I. While the Boer War sparked Canadian nationalism, it also damaged English-French relations in the country.
A memorial to those who fought in the Boer War stands near Queen’s Park in Toronto. It was designed by Walter Allward who later designed the Canadian memorial at Vimy Ridge.
Our speaker at our December meeting will be John Meguerian will speak to us on “Why we should all join CARP (formerly called the Canadian Association of Retired Persons)”