Canada – Defence Militia

To seek the origin of the Canadian militia one must go back to the days when Canada was peopled by trappers and fighters who lived in a constant state of warfare with Indians, and of necessity were able to use their arms in self-defence. The first military organisation took place in the province of Quebec in 1649, and in 1665 the militia was founded, and fought with the French Cavignon regiment against the Indians. Ten years later that great soldier diplomatist, Count Frontenac, re-organised the militia upon a basis which remained in force until 1760.

After the conquest of Canada by the British the Canadian militia was disbanded, but on the rising of Pontiac an urgent call was made which met with a most loyal response ; the militia under its French officers was the backbone of the British attack and defence in that celebrated rising. In 1792, King George III authorised the raising of a regiment of militia in each province of Canada to be the permanent force and to carry the style of ” Royal.” Gradually the Royal regiment of Nova Scotia and the Royal New Brunswick regiment came into being, and two years later a regiment of Royal Canadian volunteers was recruited and officered by Canadians in Quebec and Upper Canada.

In the war of 1812 against the United States, England, with her anxieties at home, was obliged to delegate the defence of Canada largely to the Canadian militia, and the story of their exploits may be found in the victories of Fort George, Queenstown, Lundy’s Lane, and a dozen other hard-fought battles. During the risings of 1837-8 the militia was again called upon to support the regular army. With the union of Upper and Lower Canada the strength of the militia was increased from time to time at the request of the Imperial Government, and a new military law passed in 1835, the establishment to be raised and paid for by the government, was a practical step towards the local management of Canadian military affairs.

By the Act of Confederation the administration passed from the provincial government to the central government, and since no great difference existed between the militia laws of the various provinces it was a comparatively easy task to reduce all the regiments to a uniform standard and group them in the form by means of a Dominion statute. A year later, in 1869, the militia of the Dominion became an army indeed. Since its last re-organisation in 1867 there has been little actual fighting for the militia to do, though in the form of police work it was put to a severe test in 1870 by the Fenian raid and the North-West rebellion, 1884, and by the Fenian raid of 1871. It is an interesting fact that the Prime Minister of Canada, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, earned a medal for services in the militia in the Fenian raid.

It has been consistently a policy of the Imperial Government to hand over to Canada the responsibility of maintaining her own military force and defending her frontiers ; and with this end in view the British garrisons were withdrawn about the year 1870 from all stations except Halifax and Esquimalt. The culmination of the policy was reached when on 18th January, 1906, the remaining garrisons of Halifax and Esquimalt were handed over to Canadian control. There were many who had not hesitated to predict that the withdrawal of the British garrisons would be detrimental to Canada. Experience, however, has proved directly the opposite.

In the Colonial Conference of 1902 a suggestion was made by the British Secretary of State for War, Mr. Brodrick, that a Canadian force should be trained, with the idea that they were part of the British army reserve, and that their services should be absolutely pledged to the British Government in the case of any serious emergency. This suggestion was not approved by the Canadian Ministers, for the vital reason that it would have involved a departure from the principle of self-government which Canada values as life itself. The Ministers, whilst dissenting from the proposed measures, fully realised the obligation of the Dominion to make expenditures for purposes of defence in proportion to the increasing population and wealth of the country.

The militia force of to-day, as established by law, consists of three portions : the permanent force, the active militia, and the reserve militia. Section 10 of the Reserve Militia Act of Canada runs as follows :—” All the male inhabitants of Canada of the age of eighteen years and upwards, and under sixty, not exempt or disqualified by law, and being British subjects, shall be liable to service in the militia; provided that the Governor-General may require all the male inhabitants of Canada capable of bearing arms to serve in the case of a ` levée en masse.’ ” A certain number of persons are exempt, amongst them members of the Privy Council, Judges, members of the Executive Council, Clergy, Telegraph Clerks, Revenue Clerks, Police and Fire Brigade, Professors in Universities, etc., together with persons who, from the doctrines of their religion are averse from bearing arms.

The establishment permanent force, which up to 1904 had an authorised strength of 1,000, was increased to 5,000, and in 1910 the actual numbers were 277 officers and 4,677 N.C.O’s. and men.

The permanent force is distributed in depots, so that there may be, as far as possible, one military depot in each district, and one or more in each of the larger provinces. Including Halifax there are two depots in the maritime provinces, three in Quebec, four in Ontario, one in Manitoba, and, counting Esquimalt, one in British Columbia. There is also a detachment of the Canadian Ordnance Corps at Calgary in Alberta, and another has been established in Montreal. The stations of the Permanent force of Canada are : > Quebec Quebec.

Ottawa Ontario. St. Jean Quebec. Toronto Ontario. Winnipeg Manitoba. Kingston Ontario. Halifax Nova Scotia. London Ontario. Fredericton New Brunswick.

The active militia numbers at present about 5,000 men, who drill only at schools of instruction or at regimental headquarters. The idea is that with a partially trained force of this kind there shall be an organisation which will allow of its expansion to 100,000 men should they be required for an emergency.

The period of service in times of peace is three years or more. A steady increase is shown in the number of men trained in the militia of Canada. In 1895 19,000 men and 1,125 horses were trained. In 1908-9 no less than 47,000 officers and men with 8,500 horses went through a period of instruction. The reserve militia at present exists only in name, but it can be called up by the Governor in Council at any time of emergency. There is in the Militia Act a provision as in England, that should a complete quota be required of men liable to serve, it can be provided by ballot ; so far this provision has not been necessary.

Naturally in the case of a half-trained force the most serious problem is the education and training of its officers. Officers of the militia are, as a rule, men of business, dependent for their livelihood upon their civilian occupation. It is impossible for such men to remain away for long from their business, and since Mahomet cannot go to the mountain the reverse process has been tried of bringing the schools to these officers at convenient points. The Royal Military College, established about thirty-five years ago for the training of young officers, was for many years something of a disappointment to Canadian military enthusiasts. That the education is excellent is proved by the fact that for many years past the college has been filled to its utmost capacity. A large number of graduates entered various professions, and particularly the engineering profession, and many others joined the Imperial army and proved the worth of their training. In recent years, however, many graduates have gone from the military college to the permanent militia force, as was intended.

A fact which must not be overlooked in the military education of Canada is the provision of the Strathcona Trust, founded by the High Commissioner of Canada. The object in view is twofold : 1. The improvement of the physical and intellectual capacities of the children while at school by a proper system of physical training, calculated to improve their physical development, and at the same time to inculcate habits of orderliness, alertness, and prompt obedience. 2. The fostering of a spirit of patriotism in the boys, leading them to realise that the first duty of a free citizen is to be prepared to defend his country, to which end all boys should, as far as possible, be given an opportunity of acquiring some acquaintance while at school with military drill and rifle-shooting.

Before a province can participate in the benefits of the Trust it must pledge itself to include in the regular curriculum of its schools instruction in physical training for the children of both sexes. The provision as to military drill for boys has led to a certain amount of misapprehension of the object of the Trust; but Lord Strathcona’s object, far from being to use the Trust as a vehicle for introducing a system of compulsory military training, is, on the contrary, simply to inculcate a spirit of patriotism, which is a very different thing. For this reason the provinces accepting the benefits of the Strathcona Trust are not pledged to form cadet corps, but merely to encourage the formation of such corps. The militia department makes itself responsible for the instruction of the teachers, to enable them to become expert, under the same conditions as are already allowed to the officers of the active militia.