Department of National Defence


FS–12.004; August 15, 2012

Battle Honours and Honorary Distinctions: Process of Perpetuation

The process of perpetuation

“Perpetuation” means the inheritance and preservation of the identity, fighting traditions,
and honours of disbanded units who received an honour and/or honorary distinction for their service during a war or conflict.

Canadian Forces (CF) traditions allow currently serving units to perpetuate former units that have been awarded an honour or distinction in the field. Such perpetuations allow current CF units to inherit the heritage (history, battle honours, and honorary distinctions) of the disbanded units.

Battle Honours and Honorary Distinctions

The oldest honours won by active Canadian units are for the North West Rebellion of 1885. Before Confederation, the only honour to be awarded to a Canadian Militia regiment (not on the British Order of Battle was the honour "NIAGARA" awarded in 1821 to the Battalion of Incorporated Militia of Upper Canada – for their service along the Niagara frontier during 1813-14, including at the Battle of Lundy’s Lane in July 1814.  In May, the Government of Canada announced that the NIAGARA Battle Honour awarded to the Battalion of Incorporated Militia will be carried on by four current Canadian Army Regiments that perpetuate this Battalion: the Lincoln and Welland Regiment, the Queen’s York Rangers, the Princess of Wales Own Regiment, and the Brockville Rifles.

The Battle Honour NIAGARA was also awarded to two regiments raised in the North American provinces as part of the British regular army:  the 104th (New Brunswick) Regiment of Foot and the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles raised in eastern Ontario (at that time, Upper Canada). They, along with the Battalion of Incorporated Militia, were disbanded at war’s end. Since Confederation, battle honours have been awarded to Canadian units to commemorate their actions in combat for every major conflict or war, including the Second Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Persian Gulf War, and the War in the Balkans.

Although the generic term “battle honour” commonly applies to all categories of group honours, there are in fact three distinct and separate categories. They are: the “Theatre Honour”; the various types of “Battle Honour;” and the “Honorary Distinction.” Battle honours are awarded to provide public recognition and to record a combatant unit's active participation in battle against a formed and armed enemy. Combatant units are units whose purpose is to close with and defeat, neutralize or destroy the enemy as an effective fighting force.

The term “Honorary Distinction” is mostly applied to those few badges or other devices specifically awarded to combatant units where a battle honour is not appropriate, as special marks to honour operational activity or experience which lie outside the norms recognized by battle honours (such as, in the rarest circumstances, when a unit exceeds normal battle honour parameters).

Artillery units (i.e., The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery) and Military Engineering Branch units (successor to the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers) have no individual battle honours, but instead use the motto "UBIQUE," meaning "everywhere." This was awarded as an honorary distinction to "take the place of all past and future battle honours and distinctions gained in the field." Several other honorary distinctions have been awarded to individual regiments, principally emblazoned badges carried on their Colours but uniform badges have also been awarded. However, not all badges on Colours are honorary distinctions.

All battle honours are considered equal.

Criteria for perpetuation

Over time, a number of factors have influenced how the CF Battle Honours Committee and the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) have considered the perpetuation of historical units and their battle honours to successor units.  The following are not stand-alone criteria, but are considered in relation to each other:

a) Honour/Distinction: Only combatant units that have been awarded an honour or distinction in the field may be perpetuated, and only honour-bearing units can perpetuate;

b) Geography/Territory: If the historical and current units were/are raised in the same general geographic region, perpetuation is worthy of consideration;

c) Generic function/Type:  If the historical and current units performed/perform essentially the same operational role, perpetuation is worthy of consideration;

d) Titular: If the names of the historical and current units are the same or fundamentally similar, perpetuation is worthy of consideration; and

e) Number: Multiple perpetuations are permitted, but are generally avoided as it is best if one historical unit is perpetuated by one current unit.

Once the criteria is established, the CF Battle Honours Committee meets and deliberates over which current serving CF units would be most appropriate to perpetuate the historical units and inherit their heritage. The Battle Honours Committee then presents their recommendations to the CDS for his approval. At that point, the offers of perpetuation can be made to the current units, their responses can be confirmed by the CDS, and the perpetuating units can be revealed.

The perpetuation of historical units is offered, not imposed, and may ultimately be turned down by the unit or units the CF Battle Honours Committee deemed eligible. For example, a unit might decline an offer of perpetuation because they do not feel the historical unit is part of their heritage and/or if they feel that another unit might be a more appropriate heritage successor.

Award conditions have evolved over time to cater to circumstances presented by each war. The basic principle, however, has remained constant: to publicly commemorate a battle or campaign, the memory of which will be a constant source of pride for the unit involved. Other fundamental principles are to: give just recognition for outstanding achievement in battle; avoid cheapening awards by over-generous recommendations; keep the relative size of the operational commitment and the combat conditions of a war or campaign in perspective when assigning the type and number of awards; and ensure that all eligible units which honourably participated in an action being commemorated are recognized equally as comrades-in-arms.

CF units are encouraged to celebrate the accomplishments of all their predecessors, locally and beyond, as well as pay tribute to Canada’s military history and heritage by keeping the memory of their predecessors’ sacrifices alive for Canadians across the country and future generations.