A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

The Militiaman and His Training

A Lack of Enthusiasm

Sergeant, Hamilton Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, 1894

Caption: Sergeant, Hamilton Field Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, 1894

These figures were not linked solely to budgetary factors. Volunteer enthusiasm also played a role. The Act of 1868 provided for training at least as many men as the 30,000-strong U.S. regular army. But in 1873, for the first time, the volunteers occupied only 75 percent of the 40,000 positions available. After 1874, once the law was changed to provide training to no more than 30,000 men, 97 percent of available positions for volunteer militiamen were occupied.

That said, the waxing and waning of the government's enthusiasm for military matters may have had more lasting effects than the era of low budgets, which after all was limited in duration. During the down cycles, when training was limited, volunteer interest and effectiveness declined, particularly in the rural regiments that trained only every two years. In the districts, the budgetary constraints were such that the names of the units attending camp had to be chosen by drawing lots. In such an environment, the tiny military flame sustained through pain and misery among a few volunteers often flickered out forever. Moreover, these constraints stemmed the flow of new blood that the economic crisis might have supplied had the training provided between 1877 and 1883 remained at previous levels. Budgets edged upwards after 1882, but the economic situation improved as well, making it difficult for the military to attract volunteers in the numbers the government wanted to train. Furthermore, by suddenly increasing the number of trainee openings, the government invited a flood of raw and therefore inexperienced recruits.

Annual training camps, when they did take place, were held at very specific locations. In Quebec, for example, units from the western part of the province (including Montreal) trained at Laprairie; in the east (including Quebec City) they trained at Lauzon, more precisely at the old camp set up by British engineers while fortifying Point Lévis between 1865 and 1871. We will be commenting on the real value of these training sessions later on. The units themselves would sometimes hold reviews, particularly in the cities, to mark some joyful or sad event. This gave many people, including a number of MPs and MLAs from all parties, an opportunity to don their uniforms.