Soldiers of the Atlantic Seaboard

Halifax, Key To The Atlantic

Having lost Louisbourg, the British authorities had decided to establish a strong naval and military base in Nova Scotia. In 1749, they founded the town of Halifax and major works began. From the point of view of naval strategy, or strategy in general, this was certainly one of the wisest decisions ever made in the history of Canada or of Great Britain. Halifax is the key to the North Atlantic, and today remains the largest naval base in Canada.

In May 1749, the 65th and 66th Regiments were disbanded, and three British regiments, the 29th, 30th and 45th, were transferred to the new town. The 40th Regiment established its headquarters there, as did an artillery detachment.

The arrival of more than 1,300 colonists in Halifax in 1749 soon led to the establishment of a militia. On December 10, all the men in the city aged 16 to 60 and fit to bear arms assembled on the parade ground, where officers were appointed. Ten infantry companies were formed, each commanded by two officers and consisting of 70 to 80 men, as well as a company of artificers to assist the regular army engineers.

These companies were required to drill with their weapons every week. Those who were absent had to pay a fine and could even be imprisoned. Discipline was strict; a sergeant was once given 20 lashes for insulting his captain! Duties consisted of helping in the construction of fortifications and taking turns standing guard. A detachment of 150 militiamen was assigned to the watch each night. These men were armed, but did not have uniforms and so wore their civilian clothing. This solid organization could be considered the real origin of militias in the Maritime provinces.

Toward the end of the next year, another militia company was formed in Dartmouth, and in June 1751, two others were created in the outlying areas of Halifax. The protection they afforded was necessary because of skirmishes with Amerindians who were always lurking near the British settlements. On March 22, 1753, Governor Peregrine Hopson, who was also Colonel of the 29th Regiment, required all British subjects throughout the province to form militias, including the new German colonists who formed the Lunnenburg battalion.

A paid naval militia also saw the light of day in 1749. It served on board small ships protecting coastal trade from sea raids by Micmacs, ensuring communications, and carrying provisions from Halifax to detachments posted to the ports of Annapolis, Pizquid, Grand-Pré and Canso. These ships and their crews, enlisted by the governor, formed a kind of small, temporary provincial navy. The ships Ulysses, New Casco, Dove, Yorke and Warren served from 1749 to 1755, while a few others saw duty for shorter periods. These small ships, about 30 metres in length and weighing about 90 tons, were armed with small pieces of artillery. The naval militia disappeared with the declaration of the Seven Years' War in 1756, when the Royal Navy assumed responsibility for all naval defence.