History of the Canadian Army

History of the Canadian Army

The Canadian Army as such only existed under that name from November 1940 to February 1968. However, the term has been traditionally applied to the ground forces of Canada's military from Confederation in 1867 to the present. The term is often used colloquially and even semi-officially, for example in recruiting literature and the official newspaper of the Canadian Forces, "The Maple Leaf".

Canada's land forces have a relatively short but distinguished history in comparison to the militaries of other developed nations. It is considered proper to consider all Canadian land forces regardless of actual title when discussing the history of the "Canadian Army."


From 1763 to prior to the Confederation of Canada in 1867, the British Army provided the defence of Canada, although many Canadians served with the British in various conflicts including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. However, after 1867, the British began to downsize their garrisons in Canada, mainly to move troops to other areas of the Empire, but also due to friendlier relations with the United States, Canada's immediate neighbour, and the only country capable of launching an armed invasion of the country. While Canada developed a volunteer Militia force of partially trained and often unpaid amateurs, defence of the country was dependent on a contingent of regular British soldiers, as well as naval defence through the Royal Navy.

The Canadian Army evolved from the various British garrison forces on the North American continent in the 1800s. Upon Canadian Confederation in 1867, the ground forces in Canada were referred to as the Militia. The primary action that the newly formed militia saw was from the Fenians, a group of Irish radicals who made several attempts in the late 1800s to invade some parts of southern Canada.

Eventually, a Permanent Active Militia was designated, being the regular army of Canada (regular in the sense that they were full time professional soldiers) and the Non-Permanent Active Militia (or reserves, part time soldiers with vocations in the civilian world who trained on evenings, weekends, and for short periods in the summer months).

The North-West Field Force was a body of militia and regular troops created for quelling the North-West Rebellion of 1885, which constituted Canada's first military action without British troop support (although British officers such as Frederick Middleton still played a role).


After Canadian participation in the Second Boer War, the need for domestic supporting organizations was made evident. Canada in short order formed its own medical, veterinary, signals, ordnance and service organizations. During the First World War a provost corps was also created. Canada was the first military in the world to create a military dental corps. [The Regiments and Corps of the Canadian Army (Queen's Printer, 1964)]

First World War

Canadian participation in the First World War began with the unusual step of scrapping all mobilization plans, and creating a field force from scratch.

In 1914, the Canadian Expeditionary Force was created in response to a call by the United Kingdom for soldiers after the start of the First World War. The CEF was a separate entity from the Permanent Active Militia (by now also known as the Permanent Force, or PF) and the Non-Permanent Active Militia or NPAM. Regiments and other units of the Militia were not mobilized, but rather transferred personnel to the CEF for overseas employment. The CEF was disbanded after the First World War.

Otter Committee

The Otter Committee reorganized the Canadian Militia in 1920, instituting a series of perpetuations so that both the pre-war Militia and the CEF had their traditions and histories integrated into the modern Canadian forces. The numbered pre-war regiments were all reorganized and redesignated; the archaic system of numbered regiments in the cavalry and infantry was dropped, with several exceptions such as 1st Hussars, the Royal 22e Régiment (originally the 22nd (Canadien-Français) Battalion, CEF), and the 48th Highlanders of Canada (48th Battalion (Highlanders)).

Modernization: 1936

In 1936, the Non-Permanent Active Militia had six Tank battalions created as part of the infantry, the first step towards modernization.

Canada's land forces underwent two major organizational changes between the world wars; in 1920 the pre-war regiments were all renamed, several organizational corps were created mirroring corps in the British Army, and new ones like the Canadian Machine Gun Corps or CMGC (not to be confused with the wartime corps of the same name) were created. The new regiments all perpetuated the history of the wartime CEF, and when Battle Honours were granted many years later, were permitted to adopt those battle honours.

In 1936, the CMGC was abolished and the Militia again underwent dramatic reorganizations, with three types of infantry regiments being created (rifle, machine gun, and tank). Many regiments were disbanded or amalgamated.

econd World War

The Second World War saw major changes to the Militia; in November 1940 the name Canadian Army was adopted to refer to both the former PAM and NPAM. Many infantry regiments were transferred to the Canadian Armoured Corps created the same year. Cavalry regiments were mechanized, the horse was withdrawn from military use, and the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps was disbanded.

In 1939, the Canadian Active Service Force (CASF) was mobilized; similar to the CEF, this was a mobilization of prewar PF and NPAM units, who retained their traditional titles. In 1940, the land forces of Canada were retitled. The CASF became the Canadian Army (Overseas), the Permanent Force became the Canadian Army (Active) and the NPAM became the Canadian Army (Reserve). The Canadian Army (Overseas) ceased to exist after the Second World War. A new Canadian Armoured Corps was created and many infantry regiments were reroled to fight in tanks.

A desire to have an entire French Canadian brigade was thwarted by a lack of Francophone staff officers. [See Granatstein, "The Generals".] The original mobilization scheme grouped infantry battalions by region; the 1st Brigade was an Ontario brigade, the 2nd from Western Canada and the 3rd from the Maritimes. The 2nd Division was supposed to follow the same lines, but after deployments to Iceland, the Western Canadian and Quebec brigades were mixed and no attempt was made with the 3rd, 4th or 5th divisions to organize regionally. The 5th Brigade was originally to be an all-Quebec brigade, with one Anglophone and two Francophone regiments. While French Canada was represented by four overseas French-speaking infantry battalions, and the Army did attempt to produce training literature in French, it would not be until after Unification that French and English soldiers would have equal career opportunities.

The 6th, 7th and 8th Divisions were Home Defence Divisions and contained a large number of troops conscripted under the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) which by law could not serve "overseas". One brigade did go to the Aleutians in 1943 to fight the Japanese on the technicality that it was North American soil, though no contact with the enemy was made. In November 1944, on hearing that the government had decided to send conscripts overseas, a number of soldiers based in Terrace, British Columbia mutinied. The Terrace Mutiny was the largest insurrection in Canadian military history.

The use of irregular forces in Canada become common during the Second World War, with the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers being formed in 1942; disbanded after 1945, they were the inspiration for the Canadian Rangers. Canada also formed the Veteran's Guard of Canada during the Second World War, similar to Britain's Home Guard. Consisting of overage veterans, they guarded prisoners in Canada and performed security duties locally and abroad (for example in Jamaica). They were disbanded in 1945.


The Canadian Army underwent many changes after the Second World War, including redesignations. The full time component became the Canadian Army Active Force and the part time component the Canadian Army Reserve Force.

Korean War

Canada sent 26,791 Canadians to serve in the Korean War, with 7,000 more remaining to supervise the ceasefire until the end of 1955. Of these 1,558 became casualties, including 516 deaths, most due to combat. [ [http://www.korean-war.com/canada.html korean-war.com] Accessed 23 June 2006.] Canada's participation included several naval vessels and aircraft, in addition to the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade which served as part of the 1st Commonwealth Division.

Canada's military was revitalized as a result of the Korean War. A planned changeover to US designed weapons equipment had been planned for the 1950s, but the emergency in Korea forced the use of war stocks of Second World War vintage British designed weapons. In the late 1950s, Canada adopted a variety of weapons of European, British and US design rather than proceeding with its planned Americanization.


Aside from providing a field force for the Korean War, few operational missions existed until the rise of Peacekeeping in the 1960s.

Prior to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Canadian Army was the only Imperial/Commonwealth nation to have provided the King's Guard in London. In the lead up, the contingent of Canadian troops sent for the coronation provided the guard during June 1953, along with an equivalent unit of the Australian Army.

During the early 1950s the Army advertised in British newspapers for English ex-servicemen to join the Canadian Army. These recruits were transported to Canada for training. After a 6-month trial period the soldiers' families were allowed to emigrate to join the father. Transport was usually by scheduled sea transport.

In 1954, the report of the Kennedy Board was tabled, giving suggestions for reorganizing the Militia. The Anderson Report followed in late 1957.

The late 1950s saw a dramatic increase in the Army's size and Canada's largest ever standing army was created, largely through the vision of General G.G. Simonds the Chief of the General Staff. The reason for this expansion was the need to maintain a presence in Germany as part of NATO, while simultaneously ensuring forces for the conflict in Korea. Initially, six new regular infantry battalions were raised by regiments of the Militia - two were raised from ordinary line infantry regiments, two from regiments of rifles and two from regiments of Highlanders. When the descision was made to make this arrangement permanent, it was decided that the battalions would become regular battalions of regiments. The decision was taken to make the rifles and highland battalions part of two of the senior existing militia regiments, while the infantry battalions were organised into a new national regiment:
*1st & 2nd Canadian Infantry Battalions - 3rd & 4th Battalions, Canadian Guards
*1st & 2nd Canadian Rifle Battalions - 1st & 2nd Battalions, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada
*1st & 2nd Canadian Highland Battalions - 1st & 2nd Battalions, The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada

In the early 1950s Canada sent a brigade to West Germany as part of its NATO commitment after the creation of that alliance in 1949. The 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade later became 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, which remained stationed in West Germany and later the unified Germany until the 1990s and the end of the Cold War.

The future of the Army was put in grave doubt in the age of nuclear deterrence. The postwar Militia (the part time component of the Canadian Army) was reroled from combat operations to civil defence, an extremely unpopular move. In 1964 the Suttie Commission made suggestions on improving the Army.

In 1968, The Canadian Airborne Regiment, a full time parachute regiment, was created.


The Army was integrated with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force on February 1, 1968 under the policy of Unification. The newly formed Canadian Forces was the first combined command military force in the modern world. The Army became known as Force Mobile Command (FMC). Helicopter operations, briefly instituted under Army purview in the early 1960s, transferred to Air Command.

Most of the pre-Unification corps that had been created in the early 20th Century were disbanded; they were merged with counterparts in the Navy and Air Force to form the personnel branches of the CF. The move toward unification, as well as other budget and cost cutting moves during the 80s and 90s were opposed by many and is sometimes seen as a fault in the Canadian Forces. Many veterans objected to this move and to this day refuse to acknowledge the unification, still referring to branches of the military by their pre-unification titles (Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy etc.).

*Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and Royal Canadian Dental Corps—became the Canadian Forces Medical Service and Canadian Forces Dental Service respectively; in the 1990s, both the CFMS and CFDS would combine together administratively as the Canadian Forces Health Services (though both still wear their individual branch insignia)
*Royal Canadian Corps of Signals—became the Communications and Electronics Branch
*Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps amalgamated with supply and transport services of Royal Canadian Army Service Corps—became the Logistics Branch
*Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers—became Land Ordnance Engineering, then Electrical and Mechanical Engineering Branch
*Clerical trades of Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, Royal Canadian Army Pay Corps, and Royal Canadian Postal Corps—became the Administration Branch (later merged with the Logistics Branch)
*Canadian Provost Corps and Canadian Intelligence Corps—became the Security Branch

Cold War

The Regular Force was downsized in 1970, and the number of regular infantry battalions was reduced from 13 to 10. This was achieved by disbanding entirely the Canadian Guards, and returning both the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada to their militia only status.

Francophone units

In the late 1960s, the Canadian Forces committed itself to creating French Language Units (FLUs) and encouraging career opportunities for Francophones. The Minister of National Defence, Léo Cadieux, announced their creation on April 2, 1968, to include artillery and armoured regiments as well as units of the supporting arms, with two battalions of the Royal 22e Régiment at their core. The Army FLUs eventually concentrated at Valcartier and became known as 5e Groupement de Combat. A French-speaking Regular Force armoured regiment was created, and the policy of bilingualism was supported by the first Chief of the Defence Staff, General J.V. Allard.

The focus of Force Mobile Command was set on peace missions as well as future conventional war in Europe. Equipment acquisitions such as the M113 APC and Leopard tank marked a modernization, as did the Militia's use of the Cougar and Grizzly AVGP in armoured reconnaissance and mechanized infantry roles.

Post–Cold War

Mobile Command took part in several international missions following the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Aside from playing a minor part in the Gulf War in 1991, Canadian Forces were heavily committed to several UN and NATO missions in the former Yugoslavia which tested the shrinking military's abilities and resources.

Women in the Army

The Canadian Women's Army Corps was created in the Second World War as a separate corps of the Army, and remained so until the 1960s when women were integrated into the Canadian Forces. Women were restricted to certain trades, though by the 1990s were accepted into all trades. Captain Nichola Goddard was the first female combat soldier killed when she died in battle in Afghanistan in 2006.

The first 'lady cadets' graduated from Royal Military College in the 1980s.

pecial operations forces

Joint Task Force 2 was created in the wake of a decision to move counter-terrorism duties from the RCMP to the Army.

In 1995, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded after the Somalia affair. In 2006, a new Canadian Special Operations Regiment was created as part of the major reorganization of the CF by Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier.


Aside from the disbandment of Canada's Airborne Regiment (which did not end parachute capability in the CF, as qualified jumpers were simply reorganized into jump companies of the 3 remaining Regular Force regiments), Somalia had other institutional effects on the military. Chief among these was sensitivity training such as LDA (Leadership in a Diverse Army) and SHARP (Standard for Harassment and Racism Prevention) which became mandatory for all members of the Canadian Forces. The training was a reaction to so-called "hazing videos" of members of the Airborne that came to light after the murder in Somalia.

The army in an evolving society

A number of other decisions unrelated to Somalia also reflected changing social values in Canadian society and the Army during the 1990s. Women in Highland regiments were permitted to wear the kilt beginning in the 1990s; a form of dress traditionally gender related. Aboriginals were permitted by regulation to grow long hair in traditional braids, and the turban was accepted as a form of headdress for Sikhs. [The Calgary Highlanders first put females into the kilt for the Queen's Parade on 30 June 1990, and the junior Colour bearer, Lieutenant Harry Sekhon, wore his turban on parade. (CBC news video)]


In 1995, a Special Commission on the Restructuring of the Reserves was commissioned.

In 1998, Mobile Command was renamed Land Force Command.


Canada participated in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan during which time emergency equipment purchases were made, including world class artillery and armoured Nyala patrol vehicles, replacing aging howitzers and Iltis utility cars.

ee also

*Military history of Canada
*Canadian Forces
*Royal Military College of Canada

External links

* [http://army.ca army.ca] —Army.ca, a web forum and interactive wiki dealing with both current and historical issues related to the Canadian Army.
* [http://www.canadiansoldiers.com canadiansoldiers.com] —detailed information on the history and traditions of the Canadian Army


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War — The Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War was a three volume set of books, based on the wartime work of the Historical Section of the General Staff. The Canadian Army had a dedicated set of officers in the Second World War …   Wikipedia

  • History of the British Army — The history of the British Army spans over three and a half centuries and numerous European wars, colonial wars and world wars. From the early 19th century until 1914, the United Kingdom was the greatest economic and Imperial Power in the world,… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Australian Army — The Two Armies: Militia and Permanent forces 1870 ndash;1947 For more about Australian military history before the withdrawal of British forces, see: Colonial forces of Australia. For more than 80 years after the first British settlement, the… …   Wikipedia

  • The Canadian Army Journal — serves as the primary forum for professional debate and discourse in the Canadian Army.HistoryThe journal was officially launched in 1947 and ran until its official retirement in 1965 when Canadian Forces unification instigated the cancellation… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Netherlands — This article is part of a series Early History …   Wikipedia

  • The Canadian Guards — Infobox Military Unit unit name= Canadian Guards caption= Cap badge of the Canadian Guards dates= 1953–1970 country= Canada branch= Army type= Foot Guards size= Two battalions garrison= command structure= Royal Canadian Infantry Corps ceremonial… …   Wikipedia

  • History of the Cadet Instructors Cadre — The History of the Cadet Instructors Cadre dates from well before the establishment of the Cadet Instructor Cadre in 1968. The Canadian Forces Cadet Instructor Cadre will mark 100 years on May 1, 2009. Before the existence of the Cadet Instructor …   Wikipedia

  • History of the National Hockey League (1967–1992) — The expansion era of the National Hockey League (NHL) began when six new teams were added for the 1967–68 season, ending the Original Six era. The six existing teams were formed into the newly created East Division, while the expansion teams the… …   Wikipedia

  • The Canadian Crown and the Canadian Forces — The Canadian Crown is the controlling authority of the Canadian Forces, evidenced in the command structure, symbols and history of the armed forces of Canada. The monarch is the supreme commander of the forces, though she, her Canadian viceroys,… …   Wikipedia

  • Canadian Army Trophy — The Canadian Army Trophy ( CAT ) was a tank gunnery competition established to foster excellence and competition among the armoured forces of the NATO countries in Western Europe.The trophy itself is a miniature sterling silver replica of a… …   Wikipedia