The Royal Navy, Ruler of the Seas

The Victoria Voltigeurs

A Victoria Voltigeur, 1851-1858

Caption: A Victoria Voltigeur, 1851-1858

The royal governor did not, however, have any troops to enforce regulations or to perform guard duty when needed. And in fact there were justifiable fears about the west coast Amerindians. In mid-1851 the Victoria Voltigeurs were thus formed. This was a small corps of volunteers, the first in British Columbia, intended to lend an occasional hand in enforcing justice. The Voltigeurs were mostly French-Canadian voyageurs or "half-breeds" - Métis of French-Canadian and Iroquois descent - who were mobilized as circumstances required. Their numbers could vary considerably from a half dozen to 30 or so; they were paid and fed for their periods of service and were given trade guns and a company "uniform." This was not, however, a European-style military uniform, but a sky-blue Canadian capote with a red woollen sash.

Around the 1850s, detachments of Victoria Voltigeurs frequently accompanied Royal Navy expeditions to intimidate the Amerindians. These volunteers were well disciplined and reliable. In 1853 Governor James Douglas praised them highly, reporting that they "imitated their noble example," 119 speaking of the seamen and marines of the HMS Beaver on a punitive expedition to the mouth of the Cowichan River. This first military unit and police force in British Columbia existed until March 1858.