A Decade of Turbulence

Canadians Forced to Defend Canada

Volunteer wearing frock coat, Canadian Volunteer Militia, 1866

Caption: Volunteer wearing frock coat, Canadian Volunteer Militia, 1866

In the fall of 1868 Georges-Étienne Cartier and William MacDougall were delegated to London to negotiate defence matters. They had many requests with a view to improving the status of the military in Canada, at England's expense. But in Great Britain the new Liberal government of William Gladstone had other priorities, and it announced that within two years British troops would be withdrawn from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Only the major naval bases would maintain a garrison, which meant that all troops except those stationed at Halifax would be evacuated from Canada.

Caught by surprise, the Canadian delegates did not believe the decision, thinking it a political manoeuvre. Negotiations degenerated to the point where Canada even refused to pay an invoice of $4,000 for the repair of weapons damaged by Canadian volunteers - weapons that had come from British army stores. British taxpayers, over a period of six years, had armed the Canadian volunteers with 40,000 rifled Enfields and 30,000 Snider-Enfields, so it is understandable that such a response should outrage the British ministers, who were more determined than ever to withdraw their garrisons; in 1869-70 the Canadian garrison thus declined from 16,000 to 6,000 soldiers, which brought savings of approximately $10 million (£2 million) to the Royal Treasury. The Royal Navy continued with the naval defence of overseas British territories, but public opinion demanded that the army be repatriated to Great Britain. Faced with the France of Napoleon III and Germany's increasing power, its anxiety continued to grow.