A Decade of Turbulence

Withdrawal of British Troops from Canada

British infantry officer in winter, 1873

Caption: British infantry officer in winter, 1873

There was nothing more to prevent the total withdrawal of regular British troops from Canada, as the government in London so ardently wished. In spite of Canadian protests, British diplomats were already negotiating with the Americans to settle all their differences, and they reached a general agreement: the Treaty of Washington was signed on May 8, 1871.

The British garrison had already been withdrawn from Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland the previous year. Several high-ranking British officers encouraged the Canadian government to raise a small regular army to replace the troops that had left or were about to depart, but without success. Until the spring of 1871 the government did not believe the British garrison would completely withdraw, and it continued to hope that at least one battalion would be left in Quebec, the Gibraltar of North America and a symbol of British power. London had nevertheless very clearly stated that only its naval bases in Halifax and Esquimalt would be kept for the Royal Navy and that only one garrison would be maintained at Halifax.

As the troops were repatriated, the British government turned over to the Canadian government all its property and all its regular army stores of military supplies, weapons and artillery. In the fall of 1871 it was preparing to do the same in Quebec. The Canadian authorities finally resigned themselves to the situation, and on October 20 issued an order to raise two regular units of Canadian artillery to occupy Fort Henry in Kingston and the Quebec Citadel, and to place detachments in the fort at Pointe de Lévy and the fort on Île Sainte-Hélène in Montreal. These troops would henceforth train and instruct the volunteer artillery corps. There was nothing planned for the infantry or the cavalry.

On the afternoon of November 11, 1871, the officers and soldiers of the 60th Regiment, the Royal Artillery and the Royal Engineers came out of the Quebec Citadel and Artillery Park in full dress and paraded for the last time through the streets, marching from Upper Town to Lower Town singing "Auld Lang Syne" and "Good-bye, Sweetheart, Good-bye." On the dock, with a huge crowd cheering and wishing them "bon voyage," they boarded the troop transport ship Orontes, which glided slowly down the St. Lawrence as dusk fell. A major page in Canada's military history had been turned.