Unending Seige

The Hughes Method and Camp Valcartier

Lieutenant-General The Honourable Sir Sam Hughes, MP

Caption: Lieutenant-General The Honourable Sir Sam Hughes, MP

In 1912 the minister of militia and defence sought to acquire a central camp for militia training in Quebec. Five different sites were evaluated. That November, the matter was handed over to a land agent named William McBain. The following June, McBain acquired a 4,931-acre property located over 20 kilometres northwest of Quebec City. To avoid speculation, the agent registered the transaction in his own name. Five thousand men were to be trained there every summer.

When the war began, the government needed an area that could accommodate 25,000 to 30,000 men. The minister negotiated the expropriation of 125 farmers, to whom he paid $40, 000, thus adding some 8,600 acres to McBain's property. By 1918 Camp Valcartier would occupy 12,428 acres and have cost $428,131, including Mc Bain's commission. On 10 August 1914, Sam Hughes - ever generous in awarding honorary ranks to himself and those who pleased him - made William McBain an honorary lieutenant-colonel, with pay.

just as war broke out, firing ranges for individual weapons were under construction in the Ottawa area. At the department's request, the contractor momentarily left the work in progress to go to Valcartier, where a firing range with 15, 000 targets was needed. Work began on 8 August and five days later some 1, 000 targets were ready. The world's largest and most successful f ring range, including shelters, firing positions and notices, was completed on August 22.

The minister was triumphant, but he wanted more, and to get what he wanted he approached some wealthy businessmen. William Price accepted the task of supplying the camp with potable water. He ordered the instalment of one pump that had a capacity of 500, 000 gallons of water a day and another that brought in a million gallons. These pumps were connected to a 50, 000 gallon tank encased in a steel frame 16 metres high. Thanks to Price, it was now possible to deliver water simultaneously to 200 four-metre-long washing tables and 80 shower stalls. Like McBain before him, Price was soon rewarded for his generosity. In 1914 he was made an honorary lieutenant-colonel and on 1 January 1915 he was knighted.

Lighting for the camp's roads was provided by the Quebec Light and Power Company. Telegraph and telephone networks linked Valcartier to Quebec City, and a railway was laid on bridges watched by pickets of armed guards living in tents that were raised by the riverbank.

All of this cost only $185,000 to set up and maintain until the Armistice. Throughout the war, the gates of Camp Valcartier would be closed for the winter. Beside the temporary shelters, the rare permanent buildings included the minister's residence and the pump house with a water chlorination system. The camp would accommodate 33,644 men in 1914. With the decentralization of basic training, however, there would be only 8,737 in 1915, 14,924 in 1916 and 1,811 in 1917. Total operating costs from 1914 to 1918 would amount to $590,278.24. 65 From the spring of 1915 on, virtually all reinforcements were taken to Halifax, where, unlike Quebec City, ships could sail year-round.

Daily Ration for Soldiers Training at Valcartier:

Pepper and salt
11/4 pounds bread
1 ounce tea
13 ounce coffee
1 ounce cheese
2 ounces jam
2 ounces beans
2 ounces butter
2 ounces sugar
6 ounces fresh vegetables
1 pound fresh meat
1 pound potatoes
1 ounce oil
1 cubic foot wood
Fruit is extra

The daily ration for horses was 19 pounds of hay, 10 pounds of oats and 2 pounds of straw.