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From Victoria to Vladivostok

From Victoria to Vladivostok: Canada’s Siberian Expedition, 1917-19
(Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010)
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Reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement and Maclean’s Magazine
Translated into French by Laval University Press

This ground-breaking book brings to life a forgotten chapter in the history of Canada and Russia – the journey of 4,200 Canadian soldiers from Victoria to Vladivostok in 1918 to help defeat Bolshevism. Combining military and labour history with the social history of BC, Quebec, and Russia, Benjamin Isitt examines how the Siberian Expedition exacerbated tensions within Canadian society at a time when a radicalized working class, many French-Canadians, and even the soldiers themselves objected to a military adventure designed to counter the Russian Revolution. The result is a highly readable and provocative work that challenges public memory of the First World War while illuminating tensions – both in Canada and worldwide – that shaped the course of twentieth-century history.


Critical Acclaim:

“Benjamin Isitt’s fascinating study of the Canadian contribution to the military expedition to Siberia designed to crush Lenin’s nascent Communist state punches a large hole in how much of Canada’s chattering class conceives of the country.”

—Nathan M. Greenfield, Times Literary Supplement

Isitt’s extensive analysis of why we were there—mostly trying to deprive revolutionary workers at home of an international beacon—is convincing, as is his ironic conclusion: the blatant class warfare of the expedition did more to incite radicalism at home than it did to suppress it in Russia.”

—Brian Bethune, Maclean’s Magazine

“A fascinating account”

—Tom Hawthorne, Globe and Mail

“At a time where our mission in Afghanistan is evolving, and leaders come to grips with the ‘Afghanization’ of the military effort there; and, where the future of Canada’s and the international community’s involvement in Libya is being widely discussed …, this book highlights many lessons concerning strategic objectives, one being military intervention, and the necessity for public support for same. Highly recommended.”

—Colonel Peter J. Williams, Strategic Joint Staff, Canadian Army Journal

“If you like history that is superbly researched, low on academic jargon, and high on human interest, this is your book. Wow! What a read!”

—John Perry, Coquitlam Public Library

“Too much of the good stuff in Canadian history remains hidden away in dusty corners … Now the Vladivostok story can be known in detail because of the excellent research of Benjamin Isitt … a fascinating and wide-ranging account.”

—Stephen Osborne, Geist Magazine

“Thanks to Benjamin Isitt, the full story is finally being told…. The end result is a fascinating account of a forgotten chapter in Canada’s military history.”

—Dave Obee, Victoria Times Colonist

“Based on exhaustive research, this close account of Canadian soldiers shipped from Victoria, British Columbia to Vladivostok in 1918 illuminates a little discussed aspect of World War I, that of eastern and central Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution and how events in Russia were perceived by the Allies.”

Book News, Portland, USA

“A highly recommendable work … it challenges its readers to re-evaluate many comfortable assumptions and ‘truths’ that commonly buttress public and academic memories of Canada’s involvement in the Great War.”

—Nicholas Clarke, Canadian Military History

“This episode, commonly called the Intervention, is not widely spoken of or taught in today’s Canada, for it proved a singular failure. Benjamin Isitt examines the mess in close detail in From Victoria to Vladivostok: Canada’s Siberian Expedition.”

—Gilles Laberge, Diplomat & International Canada

“While there have been other writings dedicated to Canada’s ‘Siberian Adventure,’ none are so ambitious in scope and content as Benjamin Isitt’s well-researched investigation.”

—Timothy Winegard, Journal of Military History

“The book is both scholarly and enlightening. The assertion on the back cover that it reveals new information about that confusing and explosive era in Canadian and, indeed, world history rings true. Most important, it highlights growing class and English-French tensions in Canada … .”

—J. L. Black, Sibirica

“His emphasis is on history from below: the exploration of the interaction between organized labour and the CEF(S) and how negative reactions to the expedition fed, in 1918-19, into the largest wave of industrial unrest that Canada had ever seen.”

—Jonathan D. Smele, Labour/Le Travail

“An invaluable addition to Canadian military history… From Victoria to Vladivostok is an excellent piece of scholarship … a sophisticated work of interwoven narratives and analysis by Benjamin Isitt.”

—Chris Leach, BC Studies

“Isitt’s work … forces historians to rethink their interpretations of Canadian involvement in World War I …”

—Alison Rowley, Canadian Journal of History

“In calling on historians to look more seriously at military and diplomatic happenings as they are filtered through the experience of working-class people, Isitt nonetheless challenges all who write about the past. He pushes the envelope of inquiry usefully. Whatever their field, historians should find themselves productively provoked by Isitt’s study.”

—Bryan Palmer, H-Diplo Roundtable

“Isitt’s contribution to the broader story of intervention is a social history ‘from below’ that focuses on grass-roots Canadian opposition to the intervention, on the experiences and attitudes of the Canadian soldiers, and on the interface between military and working-class history.”

—R.E. Johnson, University of Toronto Quarterly

“Isitt’s work is new, innovative, and important. He deftly weaves the Canadian working class opposition to war and the rising leftist sentiment among workers with the inner life of the Siberian Expedition itself … No less important, he melds a national story with an international one. He reveals new aspects of international cooperation in the attempt to suppress the Bolshevik revolution as well as international rivalries among the countries that intervened in Russia.”

—Larry Hannant, editor of The Politics of Passion: Norman Bethune’s Writing and Art

“From Victoria to Vladivostok sheds new light on a part of Canadian history that previous scholars have written off as a mere sideshow, a rather embarrassing episode that had no impact on the First World War. In contrast, Isitt sees the problems that befell the Expedition as being rooted in conflicting views of Bolshevism in Canada, and different perceptions of the logic behind an intervention in Russia. In this, his contribution is both significant and original.”

—Jonathan Vance, author of Unlikely Soldiers: How Two Canadians Fought the Secret War against Nazi Occupation

For more information, visit Dr. Isitt’s Siberian Expedition Virtual Exhibition & Digital Archive.


Photo Album of From Victoria to Vladivostok launch, Rivière-du-Loup, Québec, 30 October 2010

Documentary film trailer on Youtube | En Française

Listen to Audio Podcast of “From Victoria to Vladivostok” Presentation

Link to Podcast of From Victoria to Vladivostok presentation

Listen to CBC Radio interview on the launch of “From Victoria to Vladivostok”

Link to CBC Radio Podcast on From Victoria to Vladivostok

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