The 1918 National Registration
August 1st, 2016
A little metal case, showing only a string of numbers through a small window. On the other side, one half of the document can be seen through a plastic jacket. Once opened up, the small piece of paper warns that “this certificate must always be carried upon the person of the registrant.” The date recorded identifies it as being from 1918.
The card was a certificate issued as proof that the holder had been registered by the Canada Registration Board. In 1918, the Board set out to register all individuals in Canada over the age of 16 for the purpose of creating an inventory of people that were well-suited to be recruited for military service or for work in essential wartime industries. The registration questionnaire asked general questions such as name, address, and age along with specific questions pertaining to employment history and state of health.
Despite its rather innocuous appearance, this item is a small symbol of a larger, more significant movement that was afoot in the later years of World War I. From early on in the war, various voices in government and the military had been calling for a more effective way to recruit capable men for the Canadian troops and for a way to ensure that vital sectors of the economy were not lacking in labour. These appeals were met with two recurring suggestions to rectify the situation: national registration and/or compulsory military service. The first attempt at a national registration was done in 1917 by cards distributed by the post office. In the effort to avoid adding fuel to the heated question over conscription, the completion of the registration card was voluntary and the returns were not as high as they had hoped.
As the war pressed on, however, Prime Minister Borden and his government decided to go ahead with a compulsory national registration in June 1918. The questionnaires completed through this registration would have provided rich information for genealogists and researchers today. Unfortunately, the records were not retained so that these little certificates are all that remain from the 1918 national registration.