Canadian historians have paid little attention to the transition from peace to war in late August and early September 1939. Jonathan Vance’s award-winning Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning and the First World War (1997) does a marvelous job of surveying attitudes towards war in the wake of the Great War, but it does not expand into the start of the Second. C.P. Stacey’s official history, Six Years of War, devotes only minimal space to exploring the transition, focusing instead on the activities of Canadian servicemen and women. The dozens of militia histories written by the units after the war dwell on the fighting, not the training.

After telling of the story of Toronto’s experience of the first months of the Second World War, it is possible to reflect on why events unfolded as they did. Community reaction to the transformation of Toronto’s militia force into Canadian Active Service Force (CASF) units provides a window into the world of late August and early September 1939. Through what process did this body of militia men transform themselves into the backbone of First Canadian Army? How many of them volunteered to serve the Empire in the second continental European war in a generation? How did Toronto’s citizens respond to the need to equip another generation of its sons with the tools of war?