World War I, provides a graphic example of unfettered nationalism and its bloody and lasting effect. Prior to World War I, the German language and culture was encouraged in Canada. The Governor General spoke in glowing terms of their contributions to the fabric of the fledgling nation. When war was declared in August of 1914, the boys of Canada joined en masse. Since the war was to be over by Christmas, they were worried that they would miss the fun if they didn't join early. What the world did not realize was that war had changed. The invention of the machine gun brought an end to the war campaigns of the 1800's and introduced trench warfare. Belgium villages such Ypres, Somme, Pachendale, became etched into the Canadian mind for the sheer horror of the killing and loss which took place in the fields around these towns.
Those who protested the war in Canada were thought to be traitors. Young men who refused to join had white feathers pinned to their jackets by young girls. This was not a symbol of peace, but a sign of cowardice. For the German Canadians, World War I was a disaster. Their loyalties were torn between their German heritage and their adopted country. To publicly say anything remotely pro-German would bring the wrath of the crowd.
Respected German Canadians were accused of being German spies and interred in Camps. Germans faced economic ruin as their shops were boycotted. The ‘Enemy Alien Act', passed by the Dominion Government in Ottawa, took away the Germans' right to vote, communicate in German in public places or hold public meetings.13 Their concern for relatives back in Germany was seen as being anti-Canadian. Canadians were unable to distinguish between the German enemy in Germany and their German friends and neighbours. If you had been in Canada for a long time but still were not a naturalized Canadian, you were forced to carry identification papers. This affected 80,000 German Canadians, who were deemed as being ‘enemy aliens'.
The 1917 War Time Elections Act affected all enemy aliens who were naturalized after March 31st 1902. The Act took away their right to vote. On September 25th 1918, the Act made it illegal to either write or speak German at public meetings. This Act was not lifted until 1920.14
In August 1918, the War Veterans Association in Toronto marched through the centre of town, vandalizing German shops and beating Germans. Towns such as Kitchener, Ontario, raised more money for the patriotic fund for the war effort than did Prince Edward Island, but such was the blind hatred and suspicion of anything German, that this was largely overlooked.15
Leonard Frank saw the ugly side of Canada during World War I. Neighbours and friends of decades turned on him accusing him of being a spy. He was forced to leave his home of over twenty years in Post Alberni and relocate in the city of Vancouver. Despite the hardships and ugliness, he saw the beauty around him and provided some of the most strikingly beautiful images of Western Canada. Images which helped Canada define itself as a nation.