The Minute Book
Tuesday, 8 March 2016

The Militia Report (1876)
Topic: Canadian Militia

The Militia Report (1876)

The Times, Ottawa, Ont., 19 February 1876

The report of the state of the Dominion Militia, presented by Major-General Selby Smyth to the Minister of Militia and Defence, is a most intresting one. The Major-General states that he has inspected most thoroughly the Dominion forces from the shores of the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast. He alludes also to the result of his conferences with the general officers of the United States army, commanding in Montana, Washington and Oregon Territories, to whom he was accredited by the American Government—results which have already been submitted to the Department, and he states that he met with a most friendly reception. His official tour extended in point of time from the 24th May to the 15th November, and embraced a distance traveled in going and returning of about 11,000 miles, of which over 2,000 miles were performed on horseback, and 600 miles with pack animals. In speaking of the force in Prince Edward Island the General states that he found the militia had not been reconstituted since Confederation, and that considerable misconception existed upon the subject. In the year 1851, it had been disbanded, but at the time of the Fenian commotion a few independent companies were organized in consequence of a despatch from the Secretary of State—these were kept together until July, 1873. At the time of his visit there appeared to be considerable apathy in all matters connected with the militia of the Island. The force within the province consists of 700 men, in four regimental districts, or divisions, with four batteries of artillery and twelve infantry companies. Some detailed statements are also given to the clothing and arming of the Island militia, which has been placed on a more satisfactory basis than heretofore.

With respect to Manitoba, the report says that the garrison now consists of only 100 men, of whom 25 are artillery, with two 9-pounder rifled guns, and two 7-pounder mountain howitzers; two of the latter description have also been supplied to the Winnipeg battery of militia artillery. The militia of Manitoba is composed of two companies of infantry and the battery of artillery. The latter is in fair condition, while the infantry has but little solidity. The Deputy Adjutant General was about to reconstitute the infantry companies, which he hoped to render more serviceable. Recently an application has been made for more military protection at Portage Laprarie, about 100 miles west of Winnipeg, based upon a minute of the Provincial Council relative to a murder of a Sioux Indian by one of his own tribe. In the opinion of Gen. Smyth, if an armed force is considered necessary, it should be established at Totogon, in preference to Portage Laprarie, as the former commands a larger sweep of country from White Mud River to the open plateau near Poplar Point, both places being respectively 90 and 42 miles from Fort Garry.

The report then proceeds to set forth the state of the militia force in British Columbia and Vancouver's Island, and the report shows the most satisfactory state of affairs. The efficiency of the Dominion army is spoken of in the highest and most complimentary terms and some good wholesome advice is given to young officers, commissioned and non-commissioned. It is urged upon them to pay the strictest attention to their drill, and by their conduct to set an example to those in the ranks. The new clothing issued is condemned in flat terms as a failure; to use the words of the report:—

"The shape of the frock is extremely unpopular, and the serge material very bad. A shower of rain reduces the scarlet to a neutral tint approaching black. Money is always badly laid out in purchasing cheap materials, popular feeling must be respected in a purely volunteer force, encouragement must be given to maintain that feeling. One and all, I believe, condemn the serge frock, and for my own part, I think it looks unbecoming and proves unserviceable. All desire the cloth tunic, it is the uniform of the British Army which the Militia with becoming pride desire to emulate. I recommend the universal resumption of that dress. The forage cap invented here is equally unserviceable. Anything with paste board in its composition is totally useless for a soldier's wear. The men complained that the former forage cap afforded no shade from the sun nor shelter from rain. Militiamen are accustomed the year round in their ordinary work to wear broad brimmed hats, and so they dislike the round forage cap; but I believe the Kilmarnock with a back and front peak, as formerly worn by some regiments of the line in India, would answer the purpose, affording both shade and shelter, and causing a circulation of air round the back of the neck. A headdress combining grace and utility is a matter of taste still far from decided on. The Glengarry cap is smart, but would be worn probably for general use and the shako is not required for the short summer drills."

The following statistic table will show the numbers trained in each Province during the past season:—

  • Quebec, 8,168;
  • Ontario, 14,836;
  • Nova Scotia, 3,033;
  • New Brunswick, 2,124;
  • Manitoba, no return;
  • British Columbia, 200;
  • Prince Edward Island, 484.

In regard to military stores, it is stated that there is now in reserve throughout the Dominion:—

  • Gunpowder, 188,576 lbs;
  • Small arms ammunition, 6,902,576 rounds;
  • Snider rifles, long and short, 19,820;
  • Camp equipment, for about 50,000 men.

The Mounted Police is spoken of in the highest terms of praise and its maintenance is urged in the most vigorous terms. It has already done good service, and the men appear, as a rule, to be thoroughly satisfied with their lot. Some changes in the mode of arming are recommended, such as the substitution of the improved Adams revolver for the Smith & Wesson. The report denies that the force is, as has been stated, "a complete failure," and cites several instances where it has been of essential use, especially in the protection of trading posts and the fur hunters. The force is efficient in every respect, and its presence has been the means of promoting a feeling of security throughout the country. The remainder of the report is composed of reports from the commandants of the various military districts, and they are very interesting reading.

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