A Decade of Turbulence

Vulnerability of the Province of Canada

Canada Unwilling To Pay Its Share

Rifleman, Canadian Volunteer Militia, 1863-1870

Caption: Rifleman, Canadian Volunteer Militia, 1863-1870

While the commission was completing its work, a bill to considerably expand the volunteer militia at a cost of $500,000 caused a public outcry and plunged Canada into a political crisis. The bill, sponsored by John Alexander Macdonald and Georges-Étienne Cartier, was defeated in Parliament, which caused the fall of the Conservative government. But the defeat of the bill shocked the British, who had promptly sent troops and modern weapons and had seen their expenses for the North American garrison increase in a single year from £300,000 ($1.5 million) to approximately £1 million ($5 million), only to be refused assistance from those they had come to defend! Stormy debates followed in Parliament in London and the British press flew into a rage. The new Liberal government of John Sandfield Macdonald and Louis-Victor Sicotte attempted to calm British opinion by increasing the militia budget to $250,000, but the British were not taken in. That was only enough to mobilize 25,000 volunteers in an emergency; the Canadian government was thus not recruiting any permanent corps to support the British soldiers. In England, The Spectator summed up the reaction, which was that the British should not have to "defend men who will not defend themselves." 128

The British were thus in no mood to adopt the commission's costly recommendations of 1862. Yet in Canada the situation generally remained calm in 1863-64, although a Militia Act passed in 1863 provided for a total of 35,000 volunteers as well as for something new: the government of the Province of Canada would now be supplying uniforms as well as weapons. The riflemen's uniform was dark green with scarlet facings, the infantrymen's scarlet with blue facings, white lace and piping - relatively similar to the uniforms worn by British troops. The volunteer artillerymen would also wear a uniform similar to that of the British artillery, and the naval companies' uniforms resembled those of the Royal Navy. The idea was to lead the enemy to think from a distance that the volunteers were redoubtable soldiers of the British army. The cavalry continued to wear different uniforms until 1866, at which time it was supplied with a uniform similar to that of the 13th Hussars Regiment, no doubt in anticipation of its forthcoming arrival in Canada.

Additional Images

Infantryman, Canadian Volunteer Militia, 1863-1870