The Compagnies Franches de la Marine of Canada

Canadian Militiamen

A Canadian volunteer militiaman in winter

Caption: A Canadian volunteer militiaman in winter

There was no shortage of volunteer militiamen to participate in the expeditions, with Montrealers being particularly enthusiastic. It was said that Montreal's militia was both the best and the most insubordinate of all. There was a real esprit de corps in the various militia companies of the towns and parishes, which just begged to be developed through rivalries. Thus the intrepid Montrealers denigrated Quebec City's militiamen as "sheep," while the latter, believing themselves far more civilized, described the Montrealers as savage "wolves," good for nothing but running around in the woods with Amerindians. These epithets provided indirect evidence of the basic nature of both groups.

Until the end of the seventeenth century, militiamen departing on expeditions received nothing more than food and a few pieces of equipment. They had to supply everything else themselves. For example, all those enrolled by d'Iberville and Sérigny in 1694 for the Hudson Bay expedition were required to supply their own gun, powder horn and clothing, although they could look forward to sharing in any booty or profits. On the whole, these conditions were rather similar to those of privateers! It was likely on the basis of similar agreements that d'Iberville engaged the Canadians who accompanied him to Newfoundland, Louisiana and the West Indies.

The large-scale mobilizations undertaken for campaigns in Iroquois country or in the West did not offer as much promise of booty or profit. Therefore, Governor General Frontenac arranged during the 1690s to provide all militiamen with clothing and equipment. This consisted generally of a capot, a breechcloth, leggings, a blanket, moccasins, a knife and two shirts. The clothing did not constitute a military uniform but was simply Canadian-style civilian wear. Since these men were not paid, this was a relatively economical way of maintaining an effective militia.

Mobilizations were ordered by the governor general, who personally established the number of militiamen that would be needed on each occasion. An appeal was then launched for volunteers from various companies to join the expedition. The colonists who remained behind in each parish cultivated the lands of those who left.