A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

The Defence of Canada by Canadians

The Volunteer Militia System

Map of the Military Districts of Canada, circa 1910

Caption: Map of the Military Districts of Canada, circa 1910

An analysis of the situation, constraining factors of an economic and social nature, and the myth of the militiaman's or citizen soldier's invincibility initially resulted in a system of defence based on British regular troops backed by 40,000 volunteers from the Active Militia signing up for a period of three to five years. Although mention was made of a naval militia in this Act of 1868, the Active Militia would retain the basic responsibility for land defence until the 20th century. It should also be noted that the principle of compulsory service was preserved, although it would never be used.

The Non-Permanent Active Militia could enlist men aged 18 to 60, who were divided into four categories: 18- to 30-year-old bachelors or childless widowers; 30- to 45year-old bachelors or childless widowers; 18- to 45-year-old married men or widowers with children; and, finally, 45- to 60-year-olds. Canada was carved up into nine districts and 200 regimental divisions, each commanded by a lieutenant-colonel. There was to be an annual drill period lasting eight to 16 days. Every militiaman had to contribute $12 towards an Enfield-Snider rifle, with the government paying the difference. Exempt from militia duty were judges, priests and teachers in Holy Orders, policemen, penitentiary or mental asylum guards, persons with disabilities, only sons, and sons supporting families.

With an initial budget of $900,000, Canada's department of militia and defence was established in 1868. The old provincial or Canadian militias were disbanded in 1869, with recruitment beginning immediately in the new military districts. Officers were not compelled to re-enlist, and they had to take a new oath of allegiance if they did so. This procedure helped to get rid of some of the dead wood encumbering the pre-1867 militia.

The Ontario districts were the first to gain official acceptance, but by April of 1869 some 10 battalions plus a few independent companies comprised mainly of French Canadians made their appearance in Quebec. The Active Militia would rapidly enlist 37,170 volunteers, 3,000 short of their authorized strength. The Sedentary Militia - which amounted to a list of all men eligible for service - would run to 618,896 names.