Propaganda Posters and the First Nations

During world conflicts and more specifically during the First World War, propaganda was a tool used widely to influence public opinion, support the war effort and arouse patriotism in both soldiers and the population that had remained in the country.

During the first months of the war, Canadians enlisted in large numbers, driven either by patriotism, a taste for adventure or a personal connection with Great Britain. However, as the war progressed and many lives were lost, volunteers became increasingly scarce. The Canadian government therefore resorted more and more frequently to propaganda before it imposed conscription.

At the start of the conflict, propaganda was dependent on private initiatives: Battalion commanders enlisted the aid of the local lay and religious elite to finance the poster campaigns. It was nonetheless not until November 1917 that the Department of Information took control of the Victory Bonds and veterans campaigns.

The posters flooded the public arena. With the press, they constituted the primary means of recruitment. Although their message appealed to the identity and cultural baggage of the groups for which they were intended, stereotypes also abounded.

In the example of Dollard des Ormeaux, the “glorious” past of New France was exalted by evoking the Iroquois Wars and the “valiant sacrifice” of Long Sault. The Germans were likened to the Iroquois. The image of the First Nations was still one of a barbaric and primitive people. The same sentiment appeared on a xenophobic poster of the Canadian Patriotic Fund that attempted to promote national unity: “Moo-che-we-in-es. Pale Face, my skin is dark, but my heart is white, for I also give to Canadian Patriotic Fund.”

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