Additional First World War photographs and posters in the Department of National Defence collection (1964-114) and other private and Government collections are available in the database at LAC.
Library and Archives Canada has several thousand photographs and posters related to Canada's military activity in the First World War and contemporary campaigns in support of the war. The images highlighted here represent a fraction of the rich documentary art and photography collections.
When the Canadian forces first reached England in 1914, they relied on commercial photographers to record various military activities. However, in the spring of 1915, when Canadian troops went into action on the western front, there were no official military photographers. Not only was the front line unsafe for commercial photographers, individual officers and men were prohibited from using personal cameras. As a result, there are no photographic records of Canadian participation in early battles, such as the Second Battle of Ypres, April 1915.
In January 1916, the Canadian War Records Office was established in London, England. As well as being responsible for the dissemination of information on the war, the office was engaged in compiling and preserving a wide range of historical documentation. Recognizing the value of documentary photography, the office appointed Captain Henry Edward Knobel as the first official photographer on April 28, 1916. In August 1916, newspaper photographer William Ivor Castle became Knobel's successor. Castle served as official photographer until June 1917, capturing some 800 images, notably the battles of Courcelette, September 1916, and Vimy Ridge, April 1917. On June 4, 1917, British-born William Rider-Rider took over as official photographer. Rider-Rider photographed all of the Canadian Corps' actions, from the capture of Hill 70 in France in August 1917 to the crossing of the Rhine at Bonn in December 1918.
While Knobel, Castle and Rider-Rider were designated official photographers, many other unknown photographers documented Canadian military activities, both in Canada and Europe. Their work forms a core part of the photographic collections held at Library and Archives Canada.
During the First World War, the Canadian government was faced with the daunting tasks of recruiting men for the Canadian Expeditionary Force and financing an expensive war abroad. Thus, the war effort at home focused on recruitment campaigns and fundraising efforts, such as the Victory Loan Drives, which called for the public to purchase Victory Bonds. Canadian artists played an important role in these campaigns, through the creation of colourful and often emotionally charged posters aimed at the general public.
Although there was no central agency responsible for the production of these posters during the first few years of the war, by 1916 the Dominion Government had created the War Poster Service, which was responsible for the production and nationwide distribution of war posters. Displayed in public places, such as shop windows, factories and railway stations, many of the posters were specially designed to encourage Canadian men of French, Irish, or Scottish heritage to enlist.