Canadian War Posters

Canadian War Posters from the National World War I Museum's Collection

Soon after the outset of World War I, the poster, previously the successful medium of commercial advertising was recognized as a means of spreading national propaganda with unlimited possibilities.

Its value as an educational or stimulating influence was more and more appreciated. The poster could impress an idea quickly, vividly and lastingly.  In almost every country involved in the war, the poster played its part as a munition of the war. 

The posters of 1914-1919 illustrate every phase and difficulty and social and political movement from recruiting to munitions work to war loans to the Red Cross to women’s work to blatant propaganda. Some claimed that the poster was to act as a “mailed fist;” to hammer home its claims its force and character.

In Canada, the poster themes and types closely mirrored those of Great Britain in recruiting, food conservation and war loans among many subjects.

Herbert A. Williams, Poster Advertising Association of Canada, wrote that “posters appearing in Canada were outstanding examples of publicity force that will never be forgotten. They worked in the most unexpected places. In fact, Canada was turned into Posterland.”

Posters during the war, wrote an astute observer, “were battered by the rain or faded by the sun, then pasted over with another message more urgent still.”

Luckily for us, the rest of his lament proved wrong. “Save for the very limited number of copies that wise collectors in 1920 have preserved, the actual posters of the Great War will be lost and forgotten in 50 years.”

English writer Martin Hardie stated succinctly the poster’s place in World War One history: “They had their story to tell and message to deliver.  Their business was to waylay and hold the passersby and to impose their meaning upon them.”

They are not lost or forgotten. While many thousands of designs and produced posters are indeed gone, many still remain as vibrant images of a cataclysmic era and a munition of war which did not explode or drop from the sky, but still had a profound effect on the outcome.