This page serves as an overview of the origins of today’s Canadian Army and a launching pad to further explore its history.
These links provide information on the origins, battle honours and operational histories of regiments, as well as their mottoes, badges and marches.
“The history of the Army in Canada is as long as the history of the country itself, and forms a larger part of it than many Canadians realize. The Canadian soldier of today is the heir of a very old and a very proud tradition, and a tradition peculiarly his own. The Canadian Army shares many historical experiences with other forces - particularly the British Army - but some of those that helped to shape it are uniquely Canadian and are shared with nobody.”
From the Development of the Canadian Army - The First Two Centuries: The Old Militia by Col C.P. STACEY, O.C., O.B.E., C.D.
Which forms the first chapter of the classic work: Introduction to the Study of Military History for Canadian Students (Sixth Edition, 4th Revision)
This is an excellent source for Canada’s pre-confederation military history as well as covering events to the end of the Second World War.
For countless generations, Canadians served in Aboriginal, French, and British military units prior to Confederation in 1867. The development of a ‘Canadian Army,’ to use the term loosely, came in fits and starts. A hodgepodge of several militia units came and went, as governments proved reluctant to fund a standing army.
In 1812, the American government declared war on Britain as a result of perceived British interference with American shipping during the Napoleonic wars. Lacking a strong Navy of their own, the Americans decided to attack the British garrisons in the colony of Canada.
The War of 1812 predates the creation of the Canadian Army. At the time, Canada was defended by contingents of the British Army, the British Navy, and a developing system of small independent companies of volunteer militia established in French and English speaking communities throughout the colony.
It was this system of British soldiers and sailors supported by the volunteer Canadians who responded to the American invasion. A significant role was played by the Iroquois federation and other aboriginal warriors who rose to support the British and who played a prominent part in the defence of Canada. Together, the heroism of these groups during the War of 1812 helped establish our footing on the path to becoming an independent and free country.
The Canadian Army’s true beginnings, perhaps, came after Confederation. In 1871, the last British imperial units were withdrawn from central Canada and the country effectively became responsible for the defence of its own territory.
Faced with this reality, in 1883, the Canadian government created permanent schools for the militia, making for the beginnings of a standing army (however modest) and giving rise to what would become the country’s first permanent regiment, The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR).
The formation of a more permanent Canadian army was in large part the product of necessity. The RCR, along with other militia units and the North-West Mounted Police, mobilized against the forces of Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont during the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.
Responding to an imperial plea for men, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier authorized a Canadian contingent of some 1000 RCR soldiers under the command of Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter. The RCR served with distinction in South Africa, and the creation of a second contingent gave rise to additional Canadian units, including Lord Strathcona’s Horse, the Royal Canadian Dragoons, and the Canadian Mounted Rifles. At the same time, the last remaining British regiments in Canada, at Esquimalt and Halifax, were replaced with battalions of the RCR.
The First World War (1914-1918) marked a watershed in the formation of the Canadian Army. A total of four frontline divisions were created, complete with infantry, artillery, mounted, and auxiliary units, in which nearly 620 000 men and women served. Several elements of the Canadian Corps were kept intact after the war. For instance, Canada’s other two standing regiments still in existence today, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and Le Royale 22e Régiment, were created at the outset of the war. In less than fifty years, Canada had taken up its own defence and assumed its share of military responsibilities abroad, having turned a piecemeal militia force into a formidable army.
Source: Desmond Morton, A Military History of Canada: From Champlain to Kosovo, Fourth Edition (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, Ltd., 1999).
Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War:
The aim of the DHH Operations database is to eventually record all Canadian Forces operations since 1945. For each operation, you will generally find the CF Mission/Operation Notes, the Mission or Operation dates and other useful information.