The Through Veterans Eyes Collection is an ambitious program to digitize all surviving pension from the First World War. It is one of the largest digitized archival collections in Canada, comprising of over ten million images compressed into approximately 203,500 individual servicemen pension files. This comprises roughly one third of enlistments in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) 1914 – 1919.
History of the Project
The creation and maintenance of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War was an unprecedented feat of organization for Canadian government and society. As Canada mobilized for total war, the government likewise undertook one of Canada’s first forays into social security.
With the passage of the 1919 Canadian Pension Act, the Board of Pension Commissioners was established and in the process the Canadian military had a formal pension system.
For a more detailed history of Canada’s Board of Pension Commissioners, Click Here
The pension records were photographed onto microfilm reels by Veterans Affairs Canada in the mid-1950s, turning ten million sheets of records into 1,491 microfilm reels. They were then placed in storage in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for the next sixty years.
In 2012, Dr. Mark Humphries, Professor Terry Copp and Dr. Cynthia Commachio of Wilfrid Laurier University began to negotiate with Veterans Affairs Canada to acquire the pension records with the intended goal of digitizing and analyzing them. Receiving funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), the digitization began in November 2014 and concluded in August 2017.
Consisting of over 203,500 pensions files, the Through Veterans Eyes Collection is one of the most extensive records of Canadian servicemen of the First World War and the largest collection chronicling the post-war life of veterans. This represents a third of the 630,000 Canadian military enlistments from 1918 to 1919 and roughly one half of the 424,000 men who served overseas. The vast majority of the collection is made up of Canadian officers and enlisted men of the First World War, along with approximately 860 pension records of Canadian wartime nursing sisters.
These records offer incredible personal and academic insight into:
- The complexities of caring for the hundreds of thousands of people who served.
- The health and everyday life of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Canadians in the post-war decades.
- The development and application of varying social programs.
- The long-term progression of care and symptoms associated with disabilities caused or aggravated by military service.
Foreign First World War Veterans (approximate figures):
The Collection also includes thousands of pension records for veterans from other Allied nations during the First World War who immigrated to Canada after the war.
- British Imperial Veterans – 2000
- American Veterans – 600
- Australian Veterans – 150
- French Veterans – 300
Pension records for Canadian veterans of conflicts prior to the First World War are within the Through Veterans Eyes Collection. The two primary conflicts are the 1885 Northwest Rebellion and the 2nd Boer War
The 2nd Boer War (commonly known as the South African War) was fought from 1889 to 1902 between the British Empire and Dutch settlers in modern day South Africa. Over 7,000 English-Canadians, loyal to the British Empire, volunteered and fought in South Africa.
- 2nd Boer War (1899-1902) Veterans – 250
- Northwest Rebellion (1885) Veterans – 120