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Canadian Veterinarians in World War I


Harry Colebourn's Diploma from the Ontario Veterinary College, 1911.

Dr. Lisa Cox, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph.

Harry Colebourn entered the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in 1908, during a significant period of change for the college and the Canadian veterinary profession in general. The OVC raised entrance standards, lengthened the program from two years to three, and made it more scientifically comprehensive. Colebourn graduated from this more rigorous program in 1911. Returning to his hometown of Winnipeg after graduation, he was appointed as a meat inspector by the Federal Department of Agriculture. The passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1907 and campaigns to eradicate various infectious diseases in this period increasingly brought veterinarians into government service and this work provided many young veterinarians like Colebourn immediate employment after graduation. As a result of the OVC’s raised academic standards and veterinarians’ more prominent public role in activities such as meat inspection, veterinary medicine earned greater professional recognition, which helped to distance the profession from its informal roots.


Like many young men at this time, Colebourn served in the militia. In Winnipeg, he was assigned to the 18th Mounted Rifles and was eventually seconded to the 34th Regiment of Cavalry, Fort Garry Horse, in 1912. As one of the original officers of the Fort Garry Horse, Colebourn was well-trained and immediately volunteered for service at the outbreak of the war in 1914. He was quickly assigned to the Canadian Army Veterinary Corps (CAVC). Colebourn served in various locations throughout World War I, including the fields at the Somme and Vimy; at the major Canadian veterinary hospitals in Shorncliffe, England and Le Havre, France; and as a Senior Veterinary Officer in Bramshott, England.[i]


Veterinarians had been members of military regiments in the past, but it was not until 1910 that CAVC was formed as a separate, dedicated veterinary unit within the Canadian Army. Other veterinary units also existed within the British, American and French Armies, as well as the German Army. The members of these units would provide vital emergency and preventative care for the over one million horses, mules, and other animals used in the war.