Getting Started: 1896-1913

A woman rowing a small  Red Cross boat

After being founded in 1896, there wasn’t much for the Canadian Red Cross to do.  Red Cross societies generally only worked in wartime, at this point, and Canada was at peace.  Then, in 1899, the British Empire went to war in South Africa (known as the “Boer War,” 1899-1902), and several contingents of Canadian soldiers were sent overseas to fight.  This gave the Canadian Red Cross its first chance to fulfill its mandate to help the sick and wounded in war.  Canadians responded generously to the young organization’s call for donations of money and goods, and the Canadian Red Cross was able to provide a wide range of supplementary medical supplies and invalid foods.  Dr. Ryerson was among several Canadians who served in South Africa as Red Cross Commissioners, overseeing the distribution of these funds and items in military hospitals during the war.  The Boer War created the first strong connection between ordinary Canadians and the Canadian Red Cross.

When the Boer War ended, the Canadian Red Cross once again lost its momentum for a time.  It had no mandate for peacetime activity, and nearly ceased to exist.  However, by 1909 key Red Cross supporters came together in attempt to reinvigorate their organization.  They secured a charter (the 1909 Act of Incorporation) from the Canadian government which set out a new organizational structure and established financial reporting rules for the Red Cross.  Through this charter the Canadian Red Cross Society (CRCS) -- as it was now officially re-named -- became something more than just a branch of the British Red Cross, and established its position as an auxiliary to the government’s military medical services in wartime.  Unfortunately there was still little for the Society to do in peacetime, and some of the momentum of 1909 dissipated over the next few years.



Report by the Canadian Red Cross Society of its Activities in the South African War, 1899-1902.  Toronto:  CRCS, 1902.

CRCS.  Annual Reports.  1910-1913.

Glassford, Sarah Carlene.  “Marching As to War:  The Canadian Red Cross Society, 1885-1939.”  PhD dissertation, York University, 2007.