Sunday Stats: Mapping Canada’s war dead

After a few weeks of wrestling with century-old data, I finally managed to get the 66 000 Canadian Expeditionary Force war graves on a map, with only a few dozen missing graves. The Canadian Expeditionary Force is the designation for the Canadians who fought overseas in the First World War.

The data here comes from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Some data was extracted from the mobile web app's database, and some more was extracted from the website. The process is documented here.

To show you the concentration of war graves, I placed them on a heat map. Unfortunately, the Vimy and Ypres memorials account for 28% of all Canadian war graves, so it leads to a rather uninteresting visualization.

By adjusting the maximum intensity, we can tone these two down and get a more useful map.

Surprisingly, only a tenth of the war graves are located in Canada, with the bulk of them located in France (61%) and Belgium (22%).

Most of the Canadian war graves are located near Canada's largest population centres. When we put markers on Canada's largest cities, this correlation becomes obvious.




If we look at the number of war graves by province, Quebec's numbers seem remarkably low, given that it comprised 28% of the Canadian population at the time.

Graves Pop. (1911) Province
2361 2,527,292 Ontario
927 492,338 Nova Scotia
889 2,005,776 Quebec
665 392,480 British Columbia
631 461,394 Manitoba
420 374,295 Alberta
351 492,432 Saskatchewan
303 351,889 New Brunswick
122 N/A Newfoundland and Labrador
81 93,728 Prince Edward Island

This is not a testament to Quebecers' ability to survive bullets, shrapnel, gas, shell shock and disease. Quebecers simply did not volunteer to enlist, and thus had fewer men to feed into the European meat grinder. The low enlistment numbers were in large part caused by the deep divide between English and French Canadians.

This led to the conscription crisis of 1917, an event that deeply damaged the relationship between English and French Canadians.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia also stands out in the previous table. Despite its small population and average enlistment numbers, it is home to 927 war graves, far more than other provinces its size. A fool might believe that Nova Scotians had dismal battlefield survivability, but as usual, the data reveals a more reasonable explanation.

Grouping the war graves reveals that a tenth of all graves in Nova Scotia bear the same date of death: June 27, 1918. This anomaly gives us more insight into Nova Scotia's uncanny number of war graves. All 82 graves for this date are located at the Halifax Memorial, which commemorates the men and women who died at sea.

It took a bit of research to find that on 27 June 1918, a Canadian hospital ship was sunk by a German submarine. It was Canada's worst naval disaster during the war.

Nova Scotia is home to the war graves of dozens of seamen who perished during the war, and that explains the large number of war graves relative to its population.


There are 126 Canadian war graves scattered between the German cities of Potsdam, Cologne, Hamburg and Kassel. The dates on these graves say a lot: 117 of them are before the end of the war. So does the odd grouping of the casualties. Why would 51 of them be buried in Kassel, but none in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich or any other large city?

These men died as prisoners of war, plain and simple. An even more sobering fact is that nine of them died after the end of the war, before they could be repatriated.


Bermuda is a rather unexpected place to find Canadian war graves, but 10 graves are located there. During the First World War, Bermuda was garrisoned in succession by different Canadian units. The most likely cause of death is sickness, although it is not documented.

Russia and Kazakhstan

After the revolution and during the subsequent civil war, the British empire, France, the United States and other countries launched a military expedition in Russia to push back the Bolsheviks and re-establish the Eastern Front against the Central Powers. A number of Canadians participated in the intervention, and thus there are 24 Canadian war graves in Russia.

But what about Kazakhstan? There is no recorded intervention by Canadians in Kazakhstan. It turns out that this record was an error in the Canadian War Graves Commission records. The correct longitude of the cemetery is -66.3461, not 66.3461.

Just a start

I am still working on cleaning up and linking various data sets about the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but I thought a small teaser was in order. There is still a lot of cleanup work to do before I can work on more interesting analyses, but I'm slowly getting there. I will keep posting new Sunday Stats as the data behind these articles becomes more stable.

If you want to play with the data, you can fetch the code from GitHub and generate the database yourself. It's a fairly straightforward process.

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