Militia units have existed in British North America and post-Confederation Canada for most of its history. They were formed from able-bodied men locally recruited to defend against invasion or rebellion, in support of British Regular Forces. Units were formed on a county basis, and unit officers were chosen from the local elite.
They were required to muster once a year, allowing the military authorities to calculate how many men would be available in a military emergency. Equipment was to be provided by the militiaman himself, although some training in the use of weapons might be provided. Consult our Bibliography for further information on this topic.
In 1871, British garrisons in Canada were replaced by a newly formed Permanent Active Militia, at first composed of only two batteries of artillery, and later expanded to include other elements such as cavalry and infantry. These were to be supplemented by the Non-permanent Active Militia in emergencies.
Research at Library and Archives Canada
Except for the South African War, personnel records for the Canadian military were not created before the First World War. Earlier records consist mainly of muster rolls and pay lists, which contain little or no personal information. As most are not indexed, the regiment must be known before you can attempt a search.
If you know your ancestor's place of residence, you might find references to his service in the militia rolls for that county. Most of these lists are found within our Department of Militia and Defence series (Record Group 9), parts of which are available on microfilm.
British Military and Naval Records (RG 8, C Series)
This series covers the period from the American Revolution to the mid-1800s. It includes a wide range of documents relating to the British Army in Canada, Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, the Canadian militia, etc. A nominal/subject card index and the actual records are available on microfilm. References located in the index provide a brief description of the document, date, C Series volume number and a page number. After consulting the index, refer to the list of microfilm reel numbers for the actual records.
Microfilm Reel Numbers for Index
Microfilm Reel Numbers for Records
(arranged by volume number)
Muster Rolls and Pay Lists
For the period before Confederation, Library and Archives Canada holds records relating to the former British North American colonies of Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) and Lower Canada (present-day Quebec). Post-Confederation, records include pay lists for other provinces.
Some references to pay lists and muster rolls can be identified by searching the ARCHIVED - Government of Canada Files database. Select the Detailed Search Screen.
Record Group: 9
Then enter the relevant Finding Aid Number and Keywords:
Officers Registers, 1808-1922 (RG 9):
These registers are arranged by battalion or regiment and list the names of all militia officers with details such as rank and dates of commissions. They are not indexed by name.
Rebellions of 1837-1838
War Office 13 (MG 13 WO13):
Muster rolls of the Canadian militia that fought under the British Army during the Rebellion of 1837-1838 are included in the War Office 12 series.
Red River Rebellion, 1870
Red River Register of Service (RG 9 IIB4):
This register contains information about the Canadian volunteers who served in the Red River Rebellion, 1870 (vol. 16, microfilm reel T-6955). It includes:
North West Rebellion, 1885
South African War
Our South African War database includes references to:
Research in Other Institutions
Some Canadians enlisted in the American Forces, for example during the Civil War (1861-1865). Most American military records up to the end of the First World War are held at the National Archives and Records Administration [www.archives.gov/].
Canadians in the American Civil War (1861-1865)
Use AVITUS to find other Web sites about Canadian military records.
Research in Published Sources
Consult our Bibliography for further information on this topic.