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The Boer War and Canada's participation in it marked a difficult turning point in British Canadian relations. In 1897 Prime Minister Laurier had attended the Colonial Conference in London with many other representatives from the British Empire. The relationship between Britain and it's colonies and members of the Empire were discussed and attempts were made at regulating relations and commitments with the mother country. Laurier had withstood British attempts to have Canada make concrete commitments to Imperial causes such as a unified defence policy.

By 1899 war in South Africa seemed imminent. Britain had exercised a loose control over the Boer Republics but with the discover of enormous gold deposits and rich diamond veins, British immigration and investment into the area soared and British interests became critical. With the increase in friction between Boer residents and British newcomers, events came to a head and Britain decided to absorb the Orange Free State and the Transvaal into the British Empire.

Britain turned to members of the Empire for support and made subtle inquiries as to Canada's willingness to send troops. Laurier was caught in a difficult position with expectations from England Canada of support for the war effort and opposition to involvement strong in French Canada. Laurier stepped deftly through the explosive issues by deciding that Canada was not required to commit troops to conflicts which did not directly threaten Canada, but offered to pay for the equipping and transportation of a Canadian force of volunteers. Lord Strathcona (Donald Smith) formed and paid for the Canadian Cavalry, which was designated the Strathcona Horse. 7,368  volunteers and 12 nursing sisters were eventually to serve in South Africa. 

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