The Militia of Lower Canada

Official Attempts at Change

Trooper, Royal Montreal Cavalry, 1824

Caption: Trooper, Royal Montreal Cavalry, 1824

When he came up against this peculiar institution, Lord Dalhousie thought it "in truth, more of a police force similar to the Gendarmerie in France than a Militia of British formation." 91 This perception stemmed from the fact that the duties of the militia in Lower Canada included civil duties such as escorting prisoners and criminals. He was very disappointed to see so little of what "is found in almost every other part of the British Empire." 92 Lord Dalhousie was clearly thinking of the uniformed volunteers of the English Yeomanry. He therefore encouraged the training of volunteer militia companies in Quebec City and Montreal.

However, he committed one major error at the outset - admitting only young people from the Anglophone bourgeoisie. Thus the Royal Montreal Cavalry was to be a military version of the Montreal Hunt Club - a club for riding to the hounds. While the Gregorys and the Molsons were asked to form their companies, His Excellency found it preferable "for several [unspecified] reasons not to accept" 93 the offers of the French-Canadian bourgeois to form companies of volunteer riflemen and artillerymen. How would these bourgeois distinguish themselves in the new militia when they were not even authorized to establish their own companies of volunteers? The experience was mortifying for those among them interested in military matters.

But that was only the beginning. It was then decided to replace French county names with English ones; for example, the Terrebonne Militia became the Effingham Militia. In addition, in 1828 Dalhousie ordered that the city militias be divided by district, which in many instances meant that officer positions would go to English Canadians while most of the militiamen were French Canadian. This decision once again raised the sensitive issue of French as a language of command. Worst of all, the governor-in-chief, in a fit of anger against the Legislative Assembly, eliminated militia officer commissions for many of the members of the Opposition. Perhaps he was hoping to discredit them in the eyes of the voters, but it was the militia itself that would suffer. The result was deep discontent, confirmed in a special investigative committee in a report dated 1829.