History of the Canadian Army

The history of the Canadian Army, began when the title first came into official use in November 1940, during the Second World War, and is still used today. Although the official titles, Mobile Command, and later Land Force Command, were used from February 1968 to August 2011, "Canadian Army" continued to be unofficially used to refer to the ground forces of the Canadian Armed Forces, much as it has been from Confederation in 1867 to the present. The term was often even used in official military publications, for example in recruiting literature and the official newspaper of the Canadian Forces, The Maple Leaf. On August 16, 2011, the title, "Canadian Army", was officially restored, once again bringing the official designation in line with common and historical usage.[1]


From 1763 to prior to the Confederation of Canada in 1867, the British Army provided the defence of Canada, although many Canadians served with the British in various conflicts including the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Most of these local units were activated in time of war, but inactive in between:

During the War of 1812, Canadian militia units from both Upper and Lower Canada as well as fencible regiments of the British Army, which were recruited in the North American colonies for service within North America, served alongside regular units of the British Army. These fencible and militia units played an instrumental role during the conflict. The history and heritage, as well as the War of 1812 battle honours awarded to many of these units, are perpetuated by current units within the Canadian Army.

The Militia Act of 1855 created active militia, but they offered limited military protection. However, after the Treaty of Washington (1871), the British began to downsize their garrisons in Canada, mainly to move troops to other areas of the Empire, but also due to friendlier relations with the United States, Canada's immediate neighbour, and the only country capable of launching an armed invasion of the country. While Canada developed a volunteer militia force of partially trained and often unpaid amateurs, defence of the country was dependent on a contingent of regular British soldiers, as well as naval defence through the Royal Navy.

The Canadian Militia evolved from the various British garrison forces on the North American continent in the 19th century. Upon Canadian Confederation in 1867, the ground forces in Canada were referred to as the Militia. The primary action that the newly formed militia saw was from the Fenians, a group of Irish radicals who made several attempts in the late 19th century to invade some parts of southern Canada from the United States.

Eventually, a Permanent Active Militia was designated, being the regular army of Canada (regular in the sense that they were full-time professional soldiers) and the Non-Permanent Active Militia (or reserves, part-time soldiers with vocations in the civilian world who trained on evenings, weekends, and for short periods in the summer months).

'A' and 'B' Batteries of Garrison Artillery were formed as the first units of Canada's permanent military force in 1871 in Kingston and Quebec City respectively, with a third ('C' Battery) authorized in 1883 and formed in 1887 in Esquimalt. These batteries are now incorporated in the 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. The Cavalry School Corps, which eventually became The Royal Canadian Dragoons, and the Infantry School Corps, which became The Royal Canadian Regiment, were both formed on 21 December 1883.[2]

The North-West Field Force was a body of militia and regular troops created for quelling the North-West Rebellion of 1885, which constituted Canada's first military action without British troop support (although British officers such as Frederick Middleton still played a role).


After Canadian participation in the Second Boer War, the need for domestic supporting organizations was made evident. Canada in short order formed its own Permanent Active Militia Army Medical Corps, Canadian Army Veterinary Corps, Signalling Corps, Ordnance Stores Corps and Canadian Army Service Corps. During the First World War a Canadian Provost Corps was also created. Canada was the first military in the world to create a Canadian Army Dental Corps.[3]

First World War

Canadian troops going "over the top" during training near St. Pol, France. October 1916.

Canadian participation in the First World War began with the unusual step of scrapping all mobilization plans, and creating a field force from scratch.

In 1914, the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was created in response to a call by the United Kingdom for soldiers. The CEF was a separate entity from the Permanent Active Militia (by now also known as the Permanent Force, or PF) and the Non-Permanent Active Militia or NPAM. Regiments and other units of the Militia were not mobilized, but rather transferred personnel to the CEF for overseas employment. The CEF was disbanded after the war.

Otter Committee

The Otter Committee reorganized the Canadian Militia in 1920, instituting a series of perpetuations so that both the pre-war Militia and the CEF had their traditions and histories integrated into the modern Canadian forces. The numbered pre-war regiments were all reorganized and redesignated; the archaic system of numbered regiments in the cavalry and infantry was dropped, with several exceptions such as 1st Hussars, the Royal 22e Régiment (originally the 22nd (Canadien-Français) Battalion, CEF), and the 48th Highlanders of Canada (48th Battalion (Highlanders)).

Modernization: 1936

In 1936, the Non-Permanent Active Militia had six tank battalions created as part of the infantry, the first step towards modernization.

Canada's land forces underwent two major organizational changes between the world wars; in 1920 the pre-war regiments were all renamed, several organizational corps were created mirroring corps in the British Army, and new ones like the Canadian Machine Gun Corps or CMGC (not to be confused with the wartime corps of the same name) were created. The new regiments all perpetuated the history of the wartime CEF, and when battle honours were granted many years later, were permitted to adopt those battle honours.

In 1936, the CMGC was abolished and the Militia again underwent dramatic reorganizations, with three types of infantry regiments being created (rifle, machine gun, and tank). Many regiments were disbanded or amalgamated.

Second World War

The Second World War saw major changes to the Militia; in November 1940 the name Canadian Army was adopted to refer to both the former PAM and NPAM. Many infantry regiments were transferred to the Canadian Armoured Corps, created the same year. Cavalry regiments were mechanized, the horse was withdrawn from military use, and the Royal Canadian Army Veterinary Corps was disbanded.

A Canadian M4 Sherman tank crew near Caen, France, June 1944. Canadians helped develop tank doctrine in the Great War, and created the Canadian Armoured Corps in World War II.[4]

In 1939, the Canadian Active Service Force (CASF) was mobilized; similar to the CEF, this was a mobilization of prewar PF and NPAM units, who retained their traditional titles. In 1940, the land forces of Canada were retitled. The CASF became the Canadian Army (Overseas), the Permanent Force became the Canadian Army (Active) and the NPAM became the Canadian Army (Reserve). The Canadian Army (Overseas) ceased to exist after the Second World War. A new Canadian Armoured Corps was created and many infantry regiments were reroled to fight in tanks. At home, the Atlantic Command and Pacific Command were created to direct home defence efforts.

A desire to have an entire French-Canadian brigade was thwarted by a lack of francophone staff officers.[5] The original mobilization scheme grouped infantry battalions by region; the 1st Brigade was an Ontario brigade, the 2nd from Western Canada and the 3rd from the Maritimes. The 2nd Division was supposed to follow the same lines, but after deployments to Iceland, the Western Canadian and Quebec brigades were mixed and no attempt was made with the 3rd, 4th or 5th Divisions to organize regionally. The 5th Brigade was originally to be an all-Quebec brigade, with one anglophone and two francophone regiments. While French Canada was represented by four overseas French-speaking infantry battalions, and the Canadian Army did attempt to produce training literature in French, it would not be until after Unification that French and English soldiers would have equal career opportunities.

Canadian mortar team in action in France, c. 1944.

The 6th, 7th and 8th Divisions were home defence divisions and contained a large number of troops conscripted under the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) which by law could not serve "overseas". One brigade did go to the Aleutians in 1943 to fight the Japanese on the technicality that it was North American soil, though no contact with the enemy was made. In November 1944, on hearing that the government had decided to send conscripts overseas, a number of soldiers based in Terrace, British Columbia, mutinied. The Terrace Mutiny was the largest insurrection in Canadian military history.

The use of irregular forces became common in western Canada during the Second World War, with the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers being formed in 1942; disbanded after 1945, they were the inspiration for the Canadian Rangers.

Veterans Guard of Canada

Canada also formed the Veterans Guard of Canada during the Second World War, similar to Britain's Home Guard. Composed of veterans, it guarded prisoners in Canada and performed security duties locally and abroad, in Britain, British Guiana and Newfoundland. The Veterans Guard of Canada had both a full-time and reserve component, and was formed in 1940 from veterans of the Great War to provide additional support for the Canadian Army during the Second World War.[6] Many were stationed in Canada guarding important sites, prisoner of war and internment camps, as well as overseas service. The Guards were given a badge to wear on the hats consisting of a single supporter lion with two motto scrolls with the words Veterans Guard of Canada.

The Veterans Guard were involved in one incident during the Second World War, Battle of Bowmanville, which injured one. The Guards were disbanded in 1947.


The Canadian Army underwent many changes after the Second World War, including redesignations. The full-time component became the Canadian Army Active Force and the part-time component the Canadian Army Reserve Force.

Korean War

Canada sent 26,791 Canadians to serve in the Korean War, with 7,000 more remaining to supervise the ceasefire until the end of 1955. Of these 1,558 became casualties, including 516 deaths, most due to combat.[7] Canada's participation included several naval vessels and aircraft, in addition to the 25th Canadian Infantry Brigade which served as part of the 1st Commonwealth Division.

Canada's military was revitalized as a result of the Korean War. A planned changeover to US-designed weapons equipment had been planned for the 1950s, but the emergency in Korea forced the use of war stocks of Second World War–vintage British-designed weapons. In the late 1950s, Canada adopted a variety of weapons of European, British and US design rather than proceeding with its planned Americanization.


Aside from providing a field force for the Korean War, few operational missions existed until the rise of peacekeeping in the 1960s.

Prior to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Canadian Army was the only Imperial/Commonwealth nation to have provided the King's Guard in London. In the lead up, the contingent of Canadian troops sent for the coronation provided the guard during June 1953, along with an equivalent unit of the Australian Army.

During the early 1950s the Army advertised in British newspapers for British ex-servicemen to join the Canadian Army. These recruits were transported to Canada for training. After a 6-month trial period the soldiers' families were allowed to emigrate to join the father. Transport was usually by scheduled sea transport.

In 1954, the report of the Kennedy Board was tabled, giving suggestions for reorganizing the Militia. The Anderson Report followed in late 1957.

The late 1950s saw a dramatic increase in the Army's size and Canada's largest ever standing army was created, largely through the vision of General G. G. Simonds the Chief of the General Staff. The reason for this expansion was the need to maintain a presence in Germany as part of NATO, while simultaneously providing forces for the Korean War. Initially, six new regular infantry battalions were raised by regiments of the Militia – two were raised from ordinary line infantry regiments, two from regiments of rifles and two from regiments of Highlanders. When the decision was made to make this arrangement permanent, it was decided that the battalions would become regular battalions of regiments. The decision was taken to make the rifles and highland battalions part of two of the senior existing militia regiments, while the infantry battalions were organised into a new national regiment:

Centurion tank of the Canadian Army, photographed in 1963

In the early 1950s Canada sent a brigade to West Germany as part of its NATO commitment after the creation of that alliance in 1949. The 27th Canadian Infantry Brigade later became 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, which remained stationed in West Germany and later the unified Germany until the 1990s and the end of the Cold War.

The future of the Army was put in doubt in the age of nuclear deterrence. The postwar Militia (the part-time component of the Canadian Army) was reroled from combat operations to civil defence, an extremely unpopular move. In 1964 the Suttie Commission made suggestions on improving the Army.

In 1968, The Canadian Airborne Regiment, a full-time parachute regiment, was created.

Canadian Army flags

To help distinguish its soldiers from British forces, the flag of the Canadian Active Service Force, also known as the Battle Flag of Canada, was approved for use on December 7, 1939 as the Army's command flag. The flag was designed by Colonel A. Fortescue Duguid, Director of the Historical Section at National Defence Headquarters. The battle flag was not popular, and its use was discontinued on January 22, 1944. After the Second World War, the Canadian Army did not have its own distinctive command flag or Ensign, but simply used the Canadian National Flag as a service flag when required.[8] In 1989, Mobile Command requested and received a command flag, which was designed in the standard command flag pattern, with the Canadian flag in the canton, and the badge in the fly.

The Union Jack was also used as the Army's service flag (flown at various army installations) along with the Red Ensign until 1965, after which the current Canadian Flag was exclusively used.[9]

Canadian Army service flags

The Red Ensign; service flag 1944–1957.
Modified Red Ensign; service flag 1957–1965.
Canadian national flag; service flag; 1965–present.

Canadian Army command flags

The Canadian Army Battle Flag; command flag 1939–1944. No other command flag was authorised for use until 1989.
Mobile Command flag; command flag 1989–1998. Used until adoption of the Land Force Command flag.
Land Force Command flag; command flag 1998–2013.
Canadian Army command flag; command flag approved in 2016


The Army was integrated with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force on February 1, 1968 under the policy of Unification. The newly formed Canadian Forces was the first combined command military force in the modern world. The Army became known as Mobile Command. Helicopter operations, briefly instituted under Army purview in the early 1960s, transferred to Air Command.

Most of the pre-unification corps that had been created in the early 20th century were disbanded; they were merged with counterparts in the Navy and Air Force to form the personnel branches of the CF. The move toward unification, as well as other budget and cost-cutting moves during the 1980s and 1990s were vehemently opposed by many and is sometimes regarded as a fault in the Canadian Forces. The majority of veterans and those serving at the time objected to this initiative; with many, including senior officers, leaving the military altogether. On 16 August 2011, the Canadian Government restored the names of the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force to the existing maritime, land and air commands; although the unified command and structure of the CF remains.

Cold War

The Regular Force was downsized in 1970, and the number of regular infantry battalions was reduced from 13 to 10. This was achieved by reducing the Canadian Guards to nil strength, returning both the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada to their militia only status and rebadging soldiers into three new battalions of the remaining Regular Regiments.

The Regular Force regiment of The Fort Garry Horse and the 4th Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery were reduced to nil strength and placed on the Supplementary Order of battle on 16 June 1970.[10]

Francophone units

In the late 1960s, the Canadian Forces committed itself to creating French Language Units (FLUs) and encouraging career opportunities for Francophones. The Minister of National Defence, Léo Cadieux, announced their creation on April 2, 1968, to include artillery and armoured regiments as well as units of the supporting arms, with two battalions of the Royal 22e Régiment at their core. The Army FLUs eventually concentrated at Valcartier and became known as 5e Groupement de combat. A French-speaking Regular Force armoured regiment, 12e Régiment blindé du Canada, and artillery regiment, 5e Régiment d'artillerie légère du Canada, were created, and the policy of bilingualism was supported by the first Chief of the Defence Staff, General J.V. Allard.

The focus of Mobile Command was set on peace missions as well as future conventional war in Europe. Equipment acquisitions such as the M113 APC and Leopard tank marked a modernization, as did the use of the Cougar and Grizzly AVGP in armoured reconnaissance and mechanized infantry roles.

Total Force

At the very end of the Cold War and the years just after, the Canadian Land Forces began emphasizing a concept of the "Total Force" in which greater integration between Regular Force and Reserve Force components was to be achieved. Unsuccessful experiments during this period included "10/90 battalions" which were intended to be ten percent Regular Force and ninety percent reserve force. After a few years, these organizations were all undone.

Other successful and lasting changes included reorganizing regional component headquarters into larger Total Force headquarters. In September 1991, the five regional Militia Areas were reorganized into four Land Force Areas, and the Regular Force establishments were integrated into this chain of command based on geographic location.[11]

Post-Cold War

Canadian Army personnel in a Cougar Armoured Vehicle General Purpose (AVGP).
Canadian Army Light Support Vehicle Wheeled (LSVW) ambulance.

Mobile Command took part in several international missions following the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Aside from playing a minor part in the Gulf War in 1991, Canadian Forces were heavily committed to several UN and NATO missions in the former Yugoslavia which tested the shrinking military's abilities and resources.

Women in the Army

The Canadian Women's Army Corps was created in the Second World War as a separate corps of the Army, and remained so until the 1960s when women were integrated into the Canadian Forces. Women were restricted to certain trades, though by the 1990s were accepted into all trades. Captain Nichola Goddard was the first female combat soldier killed when she died in battle in Afghanistan in 2006.

The first 'lady cadets' graduated from Royal Military College of Canada in the 1980s.

Special operations forces

Joint Task Force 2 was created in the wake of a decision to move counter-terrorism duties from the RCMP to the Canadian Forces.

In 1995, the Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded after the Somalia affair. In 2006, a new Canadian Special Operations Regiment was created as part of the major reorganization of the CF by Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier.


Aside from the disbandment of Canada's Airborne Regiment (which did not end parachute capability in the CF, as qualified jumpers were simply reorganized into jump companies of the 3 remaining Regular Force regiments), Somalia had other institutional effects on the military. Chief among these was sensitivity training such as LDA (Leadership in a Diverse Army) and SHARP (Standard for Harassment and Racism Prevention) which became mandatory for all members of the Canadian Forces. The training was a reaction to so-called "hazing videos" of members of the Airborne that came to light after the murder in Somalia.

The army in an evolving society

A number of other decisions unrelated to Somalia also reflected changing social values in Canadian society and the Army during the 1990s. Women in Highland regiments were permitted to wear the kilt beginning in the 1990s; a form of dress traditionally gender related. Aboriginals were permitted by regulation to grow long hair in traditional braids, and the turban was accepted as a form of headdress for Sikhs.[12]

Canadian army personnel training in Afghanistan


In 1995, a Special Commission on the Restructuring of the Reserves was commissioned.

In 1998, Mobile Command was renamed Land Force Command.

On 15 August 2011, Land Force Command was renamed to the Canadian Army.


Canada participated in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan during which time emergency equipment purchases were made, including world class artillery and armoured Nyala patrol vehicles, replacing aging howitzers and Iltis utility cars.


The Commander of the Canadian Army is the institutional head of the Canadian Army. The post was entitled General Officer Commanding the Forces (Canada) from 1875 to 1904 when the withdrawal of British forces from Canada took place.[13] It was then called Chief of the General Staff from 1904 until 1964 when the position was abolished with the unification of Canada's military forces.[14] The appointment was entitled Commander of Mobile Command from 1965–1993 and Chief of the Land Staff from 1993–2011.[15] In 2011 Land Force Command was renamed the Canadian Army at which time the appointment was renamed to its present incarnation.[16]

List of tanks used by Canada

Main article: Tanks of Canada

See also


  1. "Canada Restores Historic Identities of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force". Department of National Defence. 16 August 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2013.
  2. Canadian Forces Publication A-DH-267-003 Insignia and Lineages of the Canadian Forces. Volume 3: Combat Arms Regiments.
  3. The Regiments and Corps of the Canadian Army (Queen's Printer, 1964)
  4. Full caption at Colour Photographs www.canadiansoldiers.com.
  5. See Granatstein, The Generals.
  6. http://www.cmhg.gc.ca/html/gl-ga/index-eng.asp?letter=V&page=1
  7. korean-war.com Accessed 23 June 2006.
  8. Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada (7 November 2013). "Flags flown by the Canadian Army". Canadian Armed Forces / Department of National Defence. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
  9. The Flags of Canada: Flags of National Defence
  10. Canadian Forces Publication A-DH-267-003/AF-001 -- Part One: Armour, Artillery and Field Engineer Regiments
  11. "Domestic Military Organization 1900-1999". Canadian Soldiers.com. 22 February 2013.
  12. The Calgary Highlanders first put females into the kilt for the Queen's Parade on 30 June 1990, and the junior Colour bearer, Lieutenant Harry Sekhon, wore his turban on parade. (CBC news video)
  13. British Strategic Withdrawal from the Western Hemisphere, 1904–1906 University of Toronto Press
  14. Integration and Unification of the Canadian Forces
  15. Chasing the Silver Bullet: the Evolution of Capability Development in the Canadian Army by Major Andrew B. Godefroy CD, Page 59
  16. Canadian Navy, Air Force 'Royal' Again With Official Name Change Huffington Post, 15 August 2011

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to History of the Canadian Army.
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/9/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.