This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Colonial militia in Canada" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (March 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

The colonial militias in Canada were made up of various militias prior to Confederation in 1867. During the period of New France and Acadia, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia (1605-1763), these militias were made up of Canadiens, First Nations, British and Acadians. Traditionally, the Canadian Militia was the name used for the local sedentary militia regiments throughout the Canadas.

However, the term "militia" was also used to refer to the Canadian regular professional land forces, beginning with the passing of the Militia Act of 1855. Passed by the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, the Act created the Active Militia, later referred to as the Permanent Active Militia.[1] After PAM's formation, the remaining sedentary colonial militia regiments were collectively referred to as the Non-Permanent Active Militia (NPAM).[2] The terms PAM and NPAM continued to be used in Canada until 1940, when the Canadian militias was reorganized into the Canadian Army. The term Militia is still used to refer to the Canadian Army's part-time Primary Reserve.


French colonial militia

Further information: Military of New France

Depiction of a French Canadian militiaman during the Seven Years' War.
Depiction of a French Canadian militiaman during the Seven Years' War.

Military service has been part of Canadian life since the 17th century in New France, where colonists were required to serve in local militia to support regular units of the French army and navy. In 1651, Pierre Boucher received a commission of captain from the Governor of New France and asked to raise militia corps in Trois-Rivières. Until the arrival of the Carignan-Salières regiment in 1665, militia corps were the only defence of New France. In the long struggle between the French and British colonies, British and colonial American troops found the Indian-style tactics (i.e., Guerrilla warfare/ frontier warfare) of the Canadien militia to be a formidable adversary. Perhaps the two most famous Canadien attacks against New England were the Siege of Pemaquid (1696) and the Raid on Deerfield (1704).

The success of the Canadiens was underscored during the French and Indian War by George Washington's defeat at Great Meadows and Edward Braddock's embarrassment at the Monongahela River. The British response was to create new "ranger" and "light infantry" units adept at woodland warfare. When France conceded Canada to Great Britain in 1763, defence of the territory remained a duty shared by Canadien and British colonists, Indian nations, and the regular forces of Britain. As the colonies advanced to nationhood, its people would be called to their own defence three times in the next 100 years.

Approximate numbers of militiamen in New France in 1759:


Until the establishment of Halifax (1749), the militia units in Acadia (present day Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) were primarily Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and Acadian militia. Before the British Conquest of Acadia in 1710, these militias fought the New Englanders in King William's War and Queen Anne's War. After the conquest, the Mi'kmaq, Acadian and Maliseet militias continued to fight the British through Father Rale's War, King George's War, and Father Le Loutre's War. The two latter wars saw the arrival Gorham's Rangers, the first British militias established in the colony (the British regulars of the 40th Regiment of Foot was raised in the colony 1720).[3] The Mi'kmaq and Acadian militias continued to fight in Nova Scotia throughout the French and Indian War.

British colonial militia

American Revolutionary War

Further information: Invasion of Quebec (1775)

British regulars and the Canadian militia repulse an American assault during the Battle of Quebec.
British regulars and the Canadian militia repulse an American assault during the Battle of Quebec.

In 1775, during the American Revolutionary War, plans to invade Canada were drawn up as the first major military initiative by the newly formed Continental Army. The objective of the campaign was to gain military control of the British Province of Quebec (modern day Canada), and convince the French-speaking Canadiens to join the revolution on the side of the Thirteen Colonies. There were only two British regiments in the colony of Quebec. Companies of Canadian volunteers had to be raised to support the regular troops. Pro-American sympathies were a problem among the anglophone company raised by the Montreal merchants. In November 1775, Governor Carleton organized the defenders of Quebec City to face a siege by the American rebels. British regular troops were few in number. Canadian militia, from both the anglophone and francophone communities, made up the majority of the defenders. The militia of Quebec City was divided into two sections in 1775—'Canadian Militia' drawn from the francophone population, and 'British Militia' made up of anglophones. During the siege of Quebec, both were issued with the same uniform: green coat without lapels, with green facings; buff waistcoats and breeches; tricorne hat. The uniforms were drawn from stocks sent from Britain in the summer of 1775 for a proposed but never raised corps of Canadian light infantry.[4]

In the aftermath of the American Revolutionary came an exodus of 40,000 Loyalists into the Canadas, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, joined by many of the Six Nations Iroquois who had remained loyal to the United Kingdom. Since many of the new Canadians were also veterans of Loyalist regiments, they brought both the British sympathies and the military training to establish competent professional forces to oppose the perceived American threat. Called "fencibles", the new units were organized within the British army, but charged wholly with the defence of their home colonies. Their professional presence also enhanced training for the citizen militia and established many traditions that continue to modern times.

War of 1812

Main article: Canadian units of the War of 1812

A mortally wounded Issac Brock urges members of the York Militia forward during the Battle of Queenston Heights.
A mortally wounded Issac Brock urges members of the York Militia forward during the Battle of Queenston Heights.

In 1812, with the United Kingdom engaged in Europe, the United States took the opportunity to declare war and launch another attempt to capture Canada and expand westward into Indian territories. While British redcoats did most of the fighting in the War of 1812, Canadian militia and allied Indian warriors proved to be a vital part of Canada's defence.

The merit of British professional commanders was illustrated by Major-General Sir Isaac Brock in Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lieutenant-Colonel Charles de Salaberry, a French Canadian, in Lower Canada (Quebec). As soon as war was declared, Brock hastened to capture the American post on Lake Huron at Michilimackinac. Besides closing a key crossing on the Great Lakes, his success earned the admiration and loyalty of the Indian leader, Tecumseh. Brock then led a force of his troops along with colonial militia, fencibles and Tecumseh's Indians to capture Fort Detroit, securing the upper Great Lakes.

In the east, the French Canadians fought a crucial battle at Châteauguay, south of Montreal. With only a force of Canadian regulars and militia supported by allied Indians, de Salaberry turned back a larger column of Americans advancing on Montreal.

Brock died a Canadian hero as he repelled the American landing at the Battle of Queenston Heights and Tecumseh was later killed at the Battle of the Thames. Many engagements proved to be bloody but indecisive, including the Battle of Lundy's Lane near Niagara Falls, Ontario, the burning of both York (Toronto) and Washington, and in numerous naval engagements on the Great Lakes. When the war concluded in 1815, nothing material had changed for the European powers. The Treaty of Ghent restored all pre-war boundaries. Canadians, meanwhile, discovered the seeds of nationhood in their victories and their sacrifices, while their allies, the Indian nations, saw their hopes for secure boundaries of their own vanish.

Fenian Raids

Further information: Fenian Raids

Funeral for Canadian Volunteer Militia members killed during the Battle of Ridgeway.
Funeral for Canadian Volunteer Militia members killed during the Battle of Ridgeway.

In 1855, the Parliament of the Province of Canada passed a Militia Act which authorized the raising of an initial force of 5,000 (later increased to 10,000) regulars. The Act was passed to raise an active force of militia which could partially compensate for the withdrawal of British regular units as a result of the Crimean War. Although additional British troops were re-deployed to Canada to deter a potential Union attack during the American Civil War, this force played an instrumental role in the defence of Canada from that point forward.

In the late 1860s, the Fenian Brotherhood was an association of Irish-American veterans of the American Civil War who plotted to free Ireland from British rule by striking at the United Kingdom's colonies that lay within easy striking distance. In response, 20,000 Canadians volunteered for militia service, many from the Orange Order. Several hundred soldiers were quickly deployed from nearby Toronto, many of them coming from The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. In Hamilton, the 13th Battalion (today's Royal Hamilton Light Infantry) mobilized over two hundred soldiers for frontier service.

The first serious raid came in June 1866 with 850 Fenians attacking at Ridgeway in the Niagara region, then withdrawing quickly back across the border. This was the largest and best-organized raid, and militia units, again primarily the Queen's Own Rifles and Hamilton's 13th Battalion, were called out. The engagement ended with a defeat at Ridgeway, but the Fenians withdrew back to the USA through Fort Erie, where another skirmish was fought before the Fenians withdrew across the Niagara River. Militia units skirmished with the Fenians sporadically until 1871. The raids ended after unsuccessful attacks during the Battle of Eccles Hill in Quebec and in the northwest frontier, near the Manitoba border. The Fenians accomplished little, but the Canadian colonies came to recognize a shared need for a vigilant and coordinated defence: a key factor leading to confederation of the provinces into one country in 1867.


Model/Type Period or Years in Use Manufacturer/Origins
Charleville 1717  France
Charleville 1728  France
Charleville 1746  France
Fusil de Grenadier Tulle  France
Fusil de Chasse Tulle  France
Queen Ann Musket 1702–1714  United Kingdom
William III Carbine  United Kingdom
Nock Carbine 1780–1790s  United Kingdom
Elliot Carbine 1770s  United Kingdom
Brown Bess Long Land, Short Land, India Patterns  United Kingdom
Lovells Pattern 1838 musket and Double Barrel Carbine  United Kingdom
Pattern 1842 Musket  United Kingdom
Pattern 1851 Rifle  United Kingdom
Pattern 1853 Enfield  United Kingdom
Lancaster Rifle  United Kingdom
Baker rifle  United Kingdom
Brunswick rifle  United Kingdom
Starr Carbine 1860s  United States
Spencer rifle and carbine 1860s  United States
Westley Richards Rifle  United Kingdom
Peabody Rifle  United Kingdom
Snider Enfield 1860s–1901  United Kingdom


See also: List of forts in Canada and List of French forts in North America

Forts were utilized by both French and British militia units throughout Canada's colonial history. The following forts built by the authorities of New France were used by its military, including its militia units:

Name Present location Historic colony Established
Citadelle of Quebec Quebec City, Quebec Canada, New France 1673
Fort Beauséjour Aulac, New Brunswick Acadia, New France 1751
Fort Carillon Ticonderoga, New York Canada, New France 1755
Fort Chambly La Vallée-du-Richelieu, Quebec Canada, New France 1675
Fort de la Montagne Montreal, Quebec Canada, New France 1685
Fort Duquesne Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Louisiana, New France 1754
Fort Frontenac Kingston, Ontario Canada, New France 1673
Fort Gaspareaux Port Elgin, New Brunswick Acadia, New France 1751
Fort Laprairie La Prairie, Quebec Canada, New France 1687
Fort Lévis Ogdensburg, New York Canada, New France 1759
Fort Menagoueche Saint John, New Brunswick Acadia, New France 1751
Fort Niagara Youngstown, New York Canada, New France 1678
Fort Plaisance Plaisance, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1662
Fort Richelieu La Vallée-du-Richelieu, Quebec Canada, New France 1641
Fort Rouillé Toronto, Ontario Canada, New France 1750
Fort Royal Placentia, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1687
Fort Saint-Jean Saint John, New Brunswick Acadia, New France 1666
Fort Saint Louis Plaisance, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1662
Fort Senneville Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec Canada, New France 1671
Fortress of Louisbourg Louisbourg, Nova Scotia Île-Royale, New France 1713
The Citadel Montreal, Quebec Canada, New France 1690

Military fortifications continued to be used by the British after the conquest of 1760. In addition to using the forts already built by the previous French regime, the British Army, and Canadian militia units, also built their own fortifications. The following British-built fortifications were used by members of the Canadian militia:

Name Present location Historic colony[note 1] Established
Fort Amherst St. John's, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1770
Fort Amherstburg Amherstburg, Ontario Upper Canada 1796
Fort Anne Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia Colony of Nova Scotia 1629
Citadel Hill Halifax, Nova Scotia Colony of Nova Scotia 1749
Fort de l'Île Sainte-Hélène Montreal, Quebec Lower Canada 1820s
Fort Frederick Kingston, Ontario Province of Canada 1846
Fort Frederick Placentia, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1721
Fort George Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario Upper Canada 1796
Fort Henry Kingston, Ontario Upper Canada 1812
Fort Howe Saint John, New Brunswick Colony of Nova Scotia 1777
Fort Lawrence Fort Lawrence, Nova Scotia Colony of Nova Scotia 1750
Fort Lennox Saint-Paul-de-l'Île-aux-Noix, Quebec Lower Canada 1819
Fort Mississauga Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario Upper Canada 1814
Fort Point Trinity, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1744
Fort Townshend St. John's, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1775
Fort Waldegrave St. John's, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1798
Fort William St. John's, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1698
Fort Wellington Prescott, Ontario Upper Canada 1813
Fort York Toronto, Ontario Upper Canada 1793
Lévis Forts Lévis, Quebec Province of Canada 1865
New Fort York Toronto, Ontario Province of Canada 1840
Signal Hill St. John's, Newfoundland Newfoundland 1762
York Redoubt Halifax, Nova Scotia Colony of Nova Scotia 1793

See also


  1. ^ Colonial administration at the time of the fortification's establishment.


  1. ^ "The 1855 Volunteers". Canadian Military Heritage, vol. 2. Government of Canada. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  2. ^ "The Defence of Canada by Canadians". Canadian Military Heritage, vol. 3. Government of Canada. 1 May 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  3. ^ John Grenier. Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia. 1710-1760. Oklahoma University Press. 2008.
  4. ^