Topic: Canadian Militia
Changes Leading to Existing Militia System (1908)
The Old Militia Law of Canada, The New Militia Laws of Australia and New Zealand, and Lord Kitcheners Report; Extracts from a Paper by Lieut. -Col. Wm. Hamilton Merritt, R.O.. President Canadian Military Institute. (Read before the Canadian Military Institute at Toronto, Monday Events in evening, 21st Nov., 1910.)
…respect for superiors had almost vanished, when men would give such answers to their names as "Sitting on the fence," or "Chewing a quid of tobacco!"
The weakness of the old Militia System was in its rendering. In some Provinces the militia-man eventually was only taught to bear arms in one muster day a year, and there was no other training even in the matter of rifle-shooting. In other Provinces, such as Nova Scotia, a better state of things prevailed, but the general weak rendering of an otherwise perfect and necessary system for Canada caused efforts to be made to create an active militia which should have more training. This appears to have been the object of the partial change effected by the Act of 1846, and of the epoch-making Act of 1855. The Act of 1846 was the thin edge of the wedge. Its most noticeable features are the introduction of the classification of the old "universal service" militia and the authorization of "volunteer" companies. While the universal annual enrollment was retained, the men of 40 and over were formed into a second class, which was to be drawn upon only in war- time. The first class were to be drawn upon for a military force raised for "active" service, not more than 30,000 strong, the "period of service" to be two years. Only one day's training was still the extent of the service required. The Act of 1855 brought about a departure from the old "Patriotic Service" form of military organization in Canada, and contemplated the raising of some 5,000 men to form "corps d'elite" among the militia and the retention of the old "universal service." Two "divisions" of militia were now recognized, the "sedentary" and the "active" or "volunteer." The former was to be enrolled annually. The members of the active or volunteer force were to provide their uniforms and clothing free, but they were to receive pay for a specified number of days' drill in the year. In 1859 the volunteer militia were ordered to drill for 6 consecutive days in each year, with pay of a dollar a day. In the early sixties schools of military instruction in connection with the regulars, then in Canada, were established with $50 allowance to those who obtained certificates of qualification in a 56 days' course. In all, more than 6,000 certificates were thus obtained. In 1865 the volunteer militia was ordered 16 days' drill at 50c a day. In 1868, after Confederation, a Militia Act for the whole Dominion was passed, which is virtually the system at present existing, with an active militia and a dormant, or sedentary, militia as a reserve. The Militia Act of 1901 is, however, a more decided step in the direction of a standing army in that it provides for a permanent force of 2,000, increased in 1905 to 5,000.
The annual muster day was evidently kept up until Confederation, for Lt. -Col. James Walker of Calgary, commanding officer of the 15th Alberta Light Horse, informs me that he enrolled a company at Ancaster Village in 1867, on May 24th, Capt. Snider being then the commanding officer of the company. It seems amazing to realize, through Col'n. Walker, who is still a most active and efficient officer, what a short time has elapsed since the falling-away took place from the principle of "patriotic" or "universal" service, and the adoption of our present "mercenary or dollar” system. Col. Walker bears testimony to the disrepute into which the one muster-day had fallen, how the fine alone forced out the militia-man, where, indeed, he may not have been attracted by the Captain's customary "treat" at the nearest tavern, and how respect for superiors had almost vanished, when men would give such answers to their names as "Sitting on the fence," or "Chewing a quid of tobacco!"
It might be of interest to quote the opinion of one who fought through 1812-13 and 14, and who lived to see and lament the retrogade steps of new militia enactments. In the biography of the Hon. William Hamilton Merritt, who was Lieut, in the "Niagara Light Dragoons," 1812, and Capt. commanding a troop of "Provincial Dragoons" ("Niagara Frontier Guides") in 1813-14 until taken prisoner at the battle of Lundy's Lane, we find his biographer (J. P. Merritt, his son) states:—"1846.—A new militia bill was brought in, on which he expressed a preference for the old law of 1808, inaugurated under the immortal Brock, whereby flank companies were always kept enrolled and trained for an emergency, thereby forming an active force, ready at any time to take the field, and form a rallying body for the rest. The wisdom of this scheme was well tried in 1812, when nearly the entire militia force was ready to take the field in defence of their country in from 12 to 24 hours after the declaration of war." And again:
"1854.—In March of this year we find the first movement towards establishing a volunteer organization, which afterwards entirely supplanted the old militia, although we doubt if the results of the movements has paid us good interest on the money spent over its institution, as we are still without the efficient home army of 1794, 1812 or even 1837."