Canadian Militia

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The Canadian Militia is a traditional title given to militia units raised from local communities for the defence of Canada. The term has been used to describe colonial militias raised in Canada, as well as its regular army from 1855 to 1940.

The earliest militia units in Canada dates back to the French regime in New France. In the French colony, a compulsory militia of settlers from every parish was raised in order to support the military of New France in the defence, and expansion of the colony. Following the British conquest of New France in 1760, sedentary militia units continued to be raised, in support of British military units stationed in the Canadas (and the succeeding Province of Canada). Enrolment in the sedentary militias occurred until 1873.

The Canadian Militia also referred to the regular army established by the Province of Canada under the Militia Act of 1855; the two organizations that originated from the Act, the Permanent Active Militia (PAM), and the Non-Permanent Active Militia (NPAM), served as Canada's regular army following Canadian Confederation in 1867. In November 1940, both PAM and NPAM were reorganized into the Canadian Army, with PAM eventually becoming the Army's Regular Force, and NPAM becoming the Army Reserve.

Sedentary militias[edit]

Depiction of a French Canadian militiaman, 1759.

Local militias were raised and used by colonial authorities in Canada, including the French colony of New France, and the subsequent British colonies in the Canadas (as well as its successor, the Province of Canada). Prior to Canadian Confederation, the British colonies situated within Atlantic Canada maintained their own militias independent of the Canadian Militia.[1]

Use of militias date back to New France. In 1669, King Louis XIV, concerned about the colony's inability to defend itself adequately against raids, ordered the creation of a compulsory militia that would include every fit male between 16 and 60 years of age, they were organized into companies, usually one per church parish, and structured in the same way as a regular French infantry company. The men were noted as excellent shots (most came with their own rifle, powder and bullets), and in better physical condition than regulars, because of their tough life, farming, fishing and hunting. Volunteer militiamen were used to support the regulars and their First Nation allies on lengthy raids, where they absorbed the skirmishing tactics of the latter. However, little time was spent on conventional European drill.[2]

Following the British conquest of New France, local militia units continued to be raised, and support British soldiers stationed in the Canadas. During the War of 1812, British authorities raised a number of Canadian military and militia units to support the British in defending the Canadas.

Sedentary militias were later designated as the Reserve Militia, after the active militias were created in the mid 19th century. Enrolment for the sedentary Reserve Militia last occurred in 1873, although its theoretical practice was not abolished until 1950.

Active militias[edit]

As the British withdrew soldiers from British North America in the decades following the War of 1812, the Parliament of the Province of Canada passed the Militia Act of 1855, creating the Active Militia, in an effort to bolster the colony's defences;[3] the Active Militia, later split into the Permanent Active Militia (PAM), the Militia's regular army component, and, the Non-Permanent Active Militia (NPAM), a force that would act as the military reserve force for the Canadian Militia.[4] Members of the militia were mobilized during the Fenian raids of 1866.

Post-Confederation militia (1867–1914)[edit]

Various uniforms used by members of the Canadian Militia, 1898.

Following Canadian Confederation in July 1867, both PAM, and NPAM were managed by the Canadian Minister of Militia; the Militia was mobilized on a number of occasions in the latter half of the 19th century, including the Fenian raids of 1870–71, the Wolseley expedition, the North-West Rebellion, and the Second Boer War.

The Second Boer War saw more than 8,000 volunteers raised for service in South Africa, from 82 different militia units, including PAM.[5] A number of administrative reforms were instituted after the war, with the establishment of the Canadian Army Service Corps in 1901, and the Canadian Military Engineers, Canadian Army Medical Corps, Canadian Ordnance Corps, and the Signalling Corps in 1903.[6]

Infantry equipment used by the Permanent Active Militia, c. 1900s.

From 1875 to 1904, the officer heading the Canadian Militia was the General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia (GOC), a position legally required to be held by a officer of the British Army. However, serious differences in opinion over divisions of responsibilities between the civil and military branches of the Militia Department would see the post virtually abolished under the Militia Act of 1904;[6] the office of the GOC was replaced by the Militia Council, with the Minister of Militia as its President, four military members (Chief of General Staff, the Adjutant General, Quartermaster General, and Master General of the Ordnance), a civilian member (typically the Deputy Minister of Militia), an accountant of the Department, and a civilian secretary.[6] Although modelled after the British Army Council, the Militia Council was purely an advisory body, with the Minister holding supreme authority over it; and the Chief of General Staff becoming the premier military member of the council.[7]

World Wars and Interwar period (1914–1940)[edit]

During World War I, the militia was not mobilized, with Canadians serving overseas enlisting with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), a separate military field force managed by the Ministry of Overseas Military Forces;[8] as World War I drew to a close in 1918, and the CEF expected to disband, plans to re-organize the Canadian militia were initiated, guided by the Otter Commission. The Commission proposed that PAM field a force of six infantry divisions, one cavalry division, supplemented by personnel from NPAM.[9] Additionally, the Otter Commission saw links of perpetuation created, for battle honours earned from units of the CEF with units of the Canadian Militia.[10]

Improvements to both PAM's and NPAM's officer corps were undertaken in the 1930s, with PAM officers directing officer cadets through courses such as the "Advanced Militia Staff Course," beginning in 1935.[11] In contrast to the Canadian Militia's preparedness for the outbreak of war in 1914, when World War II broke out in 1939, the Canadian Militia fielded approximately 5,000 officers spread throughout PAM and NPAM.[11] However, training within the Canadian Militia remained an issue, with little regimental or larger formation training taking place during the interwar period.[11]

The Royal Canadian Dragoons leaving Stanley Barracks, 1925. The Dragoons was a cavalry regiment with the Militia.

In 1938, Ian Alistair Mackenzie, the Minister of National Defence, began to encourage General Harry Crerar, Chief of Defence Staff, to plan contingencies for the militia to prepare for expeditionary action, in the event of a war between Germany and the British Empire, without the consent of William Lyon Mackenzie King, the Prime Minister of Canada.[12] Crerar sought to reorganize the Canadian Militia to new standards adopted by the British, mechanize the militia, and prepare PAM, and NPAM for combat in a temperate climate, which was the expected climate they would be operating in;[12] however the General Staff's proposal to prepare a 60,000 man force to assist the British in the event of a war was not presented until 29 August 1939, days before the start of the war.[12]

On the eve of World War II, the Canadian Militia's nominal strength was over 50,000 men, with PAM fielding 455 officers, and 3,714 soldiers of all other ranks; whereas NPAM fielded 5,272 officers, and 41,249 soldiers of all other ranks.[12] However, the Canadian Militia was not prepared to undertake an overseas campaign at the outbreak of World War II. Colonel Charles Perry Stacey, a military historian for the Canadian Army from 1940 to 1959, on the readiness of the Canadian Militia in 1939,

The tiny Permanent Force did not constitute a striking force capable either of counter attack against a major raid or of expeditionary action; the Non-Permanent Active Militia, with its limited strength, obsolescent equipment, and rudimentary training, was incapable of immediate effective action of any sort against a formidable enemy. The two forces together constituted a useful and indeed essential foundation upon which, over a period of months, an army could be built, they offered, however, no means for rapid intervention in an overseas theatre of operations.

In 1940, the Canadian Militia was reorganized into the Canadian Army, with PAM becoming Canadian Army (Active), whereas NPAM becoming Canadian Army (Reserve).[13]


The two Canadian Army components that were previously PAM and NPAM were renamed following World War II as Canadian Army Regular Force and Canadian Army Reserve Force respectively. In the 1950s, the reserve force again adopted the title "Militia" and that title has remained an unofficial and official (in some army documents) designation for part-time soldiers of the land forces of the Canadian Forces.

Following the unification of the Canadian Armed Forces in 1968, the Canadian Army became Mobile Command, with its militia component becoming Mobile Command (Reserve). In 1993, Mobile Command (Reserve) was renamed Land Force Command (Reserve), changing its name to match its Regular Force counterparts (also renamed Land Force Command).

In 2011, the service elements of the Canadian Armed Forces reverted to their pre-1968 names, with Land Force Command (Reserve) reverting its name to the Canadian Army Reserve. Since the unification of the armed forces in 1968, the word militia has not been used to formally describe a Canadian military force. Colloquially however, the word militia is used to refer to the Canadian Army Reserve.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In the Maritimes". Canadian Military Heritage, vol. 2. Government of Canada. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2018.
  2. ^ Chartrand, René Canadian Military Heritage Vol1 1000-1754 pp 73-100
  3. ^ "The 1855 Volunteers". Canadian Military Heritage, vol. 2. Government of Canada. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  4. ^ "The Defence of Canada by Canadians". Canadian Military Heritage, vol. 3. Government of Canada. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  5. ^ Nicholson 2015, p. 7.
  6. ^ a b c Nicholson 2015, p. 8.
  7. ^ Nicholson 2015, p. 9.
  8. ^ "Military Structure - The Overseas Ministry". Canadian War Museum. 2019. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  9. ^ Elliot, S. R. (2017). Scarlet to Green: A History of Intelligence in the Canadian Army 1903-1963. FriesenPress. p. 72. ISBN 1-7751-1360-4.
  10. ^ Horn, Bernd (2012). Doing Canada Proud: The Second Boer War and the Battle of Paardeberg. Dundurn. p. 34. ISBN 1-4597-0578-5.
  11. ^ a b c Granatstein 2011, p. 162.
  12. ^ a b c d e Granatstein 2011, p. 173.
  13. ^ Godefroy, Andrew B. (2014). In Peace Prepared: Innovation and Adaptation in Canada’s Cold War Army. UBC Press. p. 14. ISBN 0-7748-2705-X.
  14. ^ McDonald, Corinne (29 November 1999). "The Canadian Armed Forces: The Role of the Reserves". Government of Canada Publications. Government of Canada. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  15. ^ "The Reserve Force and Reserve Classes of Service". Department of National Defence. Government of Canada. 6 July 2018. Retrieved 27 January 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Nicholson, G. W. L. (2015). Canadian Expeditionary Force, 1914-1919: Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War. McGill-Queen University Press. ISBN 0-7735-9790-5.
  • Granatstein, J. L. (2011). Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 1-4426-1178-2.