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Description found in Archives

Department of Militia and Defence fonds [multiple media]. 


1847-1960; predominant 1867-1922

Place of creation

No place, unknown, or undetermined

ca. 663.84 m of textual records
ca. 644 maps chiefly blackline prints, hand col., some blueprints 117 x 172 cm or smaller.
ca. 229 remote-sensing images
ca. 47 diagrams mss., pencil, some blueprints 75 x 72 cm or smaller.
34 technical drawings some blackline prints, hand col., some blueprints 96 x 85 cm or smaller.
7 leaves pencil 22 x 21 cm or smaller.
3 architectural drawings on 1 sheet ink and pencil, hand col. 25 x 89 cm.
293 photographs: b&w
30 reproductions: heliogravure
25 reproductions: photographs and negatives

Added language of material: French

Scope and content

Fonds consists of records created and/or maintained by the Department of Militia and Defence and its predecessors. Researchers are cautioned that unprocessed textual records and records in other media are not reflected in this description.

Textual records
96: Restrictions vary
Archival reference no.
Former archival reference no.

Terms of use

Copyright belongs to the Crown.

Finding aids are available. See lower level descriptions and accession records in ArchiviaNet (the NA website). (Other)

Biography / Administrative history

The first Militia Act for the British colony of Quebec was passed in 1777 (17 Geo. III, ch. 8) and was largely a re-enactment of the old French laws. All males between the ages of 16 and 60 were required to serve in the militia of the parish in which they resided and were commanded by a captain, appointed from among the more prominent men of the parish. Following this model, the first Militia Act for Upper Canada, passed in 1793 (33 Geo. III, ch. 1), enrolled as militiamen all males between the ages of 16 and 50, who were called out once a year.

The first Militia Act for the united Province of Canada (9 Vic., ch. 28), passed in 1846 continued the old system of universal service enacted in the militia law of Upper Canada. In addition, the Governor had the power (as in some previous acts) to form volunteer units and a few such units were organized. The 1855 Militia Act (18 Vic., ch. 77) created a larger force of volunteers - the Active or Volunteer Militia - consisting of troops of cavalry, field batteries, foot companies of artillery, infantry and rifle companies which were equipped with arms and accoutrements by the government.

By the 1860s statesmen and inhabitants in Canada both feared that the victorious Union armies from the American Civil War might be directed northward: in fact Canada's boundaries were invaded by Irish Fenians operating from the United States in 1866 and 1870. The need for an improved defence organization was an important contributing factor leading to negotiations for Confederation.

Sir George Etienne Cartier's first Militia Act for the Dominion of Canada (31 Vic., ch. 40), which created the Department of Militia and Defence in 1868, drew heavily upon the system of the Province of Canada, with its combination of a largely dormant universal obligation for military service, which remained a part of the Canadian military system until 1950, and with an overlay of volunteer units, which provided the visible embodiment of the militia. In this Cartier had specifically rejected the Nova Scotia precedent of a system in which nearly the total manpower of the state was uniformed, equipped and trained.

The volunteer militia, organized into nine military districts, each under a Deputy Adjutant General, were to drill from eight to sixteen days annually. The Adjutant General at Militia Headquarters was responsible for the whole force. The militia, like its predecessors, could be called upon to quell public disturbances when requested by magistrates to act "in aid of the civil power." Candidates for officers' commissions were required to qualify at a military school, initially run by the British Army, and militia officers were subordinate to British Regular officers of the same rank.

Significant organizational developments for the Department of Militia and Defence in the latter nineteenth century included: the withdrawal of the British garrison from inland Canada in 1871 and the subsequent formation of two artillery batteries, the nucleus of a Canadian permanent force, at the former imperial fortresses at Quebec and Kingston, Ont.; the creation of the position of General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia, filled by a British Regular, in 1874; the opening of the Royal Military College of Canada in 1876; and the creation of a permanent force of infantry and cavalry, as training schools in 1883. Each was accompanied by an amendment to the Militia Act, with a completely new Act (46 Vic., ch. 11) passed in 1883.

The militia was the focus of tensions among Ottawa, the Imperial government in London, and a succession of British commanders who were frustrated by their inability to reform an amateur force which was often the focus for the minor patronage appointments a colonial government could bestow. In early 1904 the Minister of Militia and Defence, Sir Frederick Borden brought about a new Militia Act (4 Ed. VII, ch. 23) which enlarged headquarters and district staffs to administer an increasingly decentralized force, increased pay, greatly increased the maximum training allotted, and replaced the British General Officer Commanding with a Militia Council made up of the Minister, Deputy Minister, chief of the General Staff, Adjutant General and Master General of the Ordnance, following the model of the British Army Council.

Although the Conservative Minister of Militia and Defence, Major General Sam Hughes, scrapped the militia's mobilization plans in 1914, Borden had drawn the blueprint for a department which guided Canada's military effort through the First World War. Three separate commissions at the end of the war recommended a postwar standing army of about 20,000 troops, supported by compulsory military service, but by 1920 the government decided on a permanent force of 5,000, with a much larger part-time militia. On 1 January 1923 the Departments of Militia and Defence, the Naval Service (which had reported to the Minister of Marine and Fisheries) and the Air Board were integrated into the Department of National Defence (12-13 Geo. V, ch. 34).

The Ministers of Militia and Defence were Hon. Sir George Etienne Cartier, bart., July 1867 until his death on 20 May 1873; Hon. Hector Louis Langevin (Acting), May-June 1873; Hon. Hugh McDonald, July-November 1873; Hon. Lieutenant Colonel William Ross, November 1873 - September 1874; Hon. William Berrian Vail, September 1874 - January 1878; Hon. Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Gilpin Jones, January-October 1878; Hon. Lieutenant Colonel Louis François Rodrigue Masson, October 1878 - January 1880; Hon. Sir Alexander Campbell, January-November 1880; Hon. Sir Joseph Philippe René Adolphe Caron, November 1880 - January 1892; Hon. Sir Mackenzie Bowell, January-November 1892 and, Acting, January 1896; Hon. James Colebrooke Patterson, December 1892 - March 1895; Hon. Arthur Rupert Dickey, March 1895 - January 1896; Hon. Alphonse Desjardins, January-April 1896; Hon. David Tisdale, May-July 1896; Hon. Sir Frederick William Borden, July 1896 - October 1911; Hon. Major General Sir Sam Hughes, October 1911 - October 1916; vacant, October-November 1916; Hon. Sir Albert Edward Kemp, November 1916 - October 1917; Hon. Major General Sydney Chilton Mewburn, October 1917 - January 1920; Hon. James Alexander Calder (Acting), January 1920; Hon. Hugh Guthrie, January 1920 - December 1921; and Hon. George Perry Graham (also Minister of the Naval Service and subsequently Minister of National Defence, December 1921 - December 1922.

Additional information

Source of title
Militia Act, 31 Vic., Chap. 40 (1868)

No further accruals are expected.

Subject heading

1. Canada. Dept. of Militia and Defence
2. Canada. Ministère de la milice et défense


Other system control no.