A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

The Value of the Militia

Militia Deficiencies

University Avenue Armouries, Toronto, 1909

Caption: University Avenue Armouries, Toronto, 1909

In 1896 it was the turn of Major-General W J. Gascoigne, who had succeeded Herbert in 1895, to report that none of the troops were ready to take the field. Reforms had indeed been carried out over the years: Under Herbert, for example, the military schools had been formed into regiments, permanent sites had been chosen for the annual camps and a medical service had been set up, along with six-week qualification camps for officers and NCOs. But there were still no quartermaster's stores, and the militia was generally disorganized and demoralized. 18 Yet the public seemed satisfied with its defence forces. The militiaman's annual pay had become a well-accepted allocation, particularly in rural districts. Defence was already playing an acknowledged and appreciated role in the regional economy.

One of the few advantages of the Non-Permanent Militia was that it gave recognition to those men who were willing to serve. There were a number of disadvantages, however. The defence force not only suffered from a lack of arsenals, but also had a tendency to lose uniforms and equipment. Moreover, its headquarters were invested with insufficient power for fear of infringing on the authority of several politicians playing soldier within their communities. There was also some abuse of the system of ranks.

Furthermore, the volunteer was required to pay fees and make sacrifices. If he joined his unit to maintain public order because the police force was weak - if indeed there was one - he might wait months before being paid. If he left for weeks or months in the field, his employer might not guarantee that he would have a job upon his return. He would also be leaving his family to public assistance agencies hastily formed for this purpose. If harm befell him, his family was not assured of a pension. This in addition to the constant reshuffling that moved battalions from one brigade to another and from one military district to another, made ranks disappear and reappear, and abolished and revived units without anyone really understanding the reason behind all the changes.

Anyone examining the issue in any detail would come away with fairly negative results. Anyone imagining how the country might deal with aggression could not be very optimistic. In the Journal of the Military Service Institution, an American publication, an anonymous, but clearly Canadian, foreign correspondent described a mobilization plan for a Canadian Militia abruptly assigned responsibility for defending the border from Quebec City to Detroit. In issues 29 and 30 (March and June 1887), he explained that the country was far from capable of mobilizing the 150,000 men that would be required. Moreover, the cause would have to be popular among both Francophones and Anglophones. Although it did end on some positive notes, the long article let it be known that Montreal, the industrial and economic heart of Canada, would be virtually indefensible.

Additional Images

Canadian infantry barracks room, circa 1890