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...On Guard For Thee...

The Canadian Military for Victorian-Era Games

by John Gannon


One of the small pieces of minutiae that has always caused me to roll my eyes has been the rather limited acknowledgment that the Colonial Forces of the British Empire have received in dealing with Victorian Era Colonial games. For example, in Space: 1889, while the armies of Britain and Colonial India were well described and explained, the forces of Australia, New Zealand and Canada were dealt with in rather terse, bare-bones paragraphs.

From the 1880s onwards, Aussies, Kiwis, and Canucks played an ever increasing role in major British military operations, and I've always felt more detail of these forces was deserved. Beginning with the small contingents of Canadians and Australians recruited during the Sudan Campaign of 1882, all the way to the Canadian Corps storming Vimy Ridge, and the ANZAC's magnificent but bloody campaign at Gallipoli during the First World War, colonial forces have made up a significant portion of any British Expeditionary Force. Some may argue that since "they all look alike anyway", and are structured almost identically to regular British units, there is no need for additional information. For others, however, the greater accuracy and detail in their games adds a flavour that makes the game that much more enjoyable.

The Australian forces have been well defended by Peter Shutze's article in TRMGS Volume Two, concerning Australia's historical military forces, but, as a representative of the "Other" great Dominion of the Empire, I felt moved to provide a more detailed description of Canada's military during the Victorian Era. I have chosen to use the Space: 1889 back story of the Oenotrian War to frame these units, though of course, they could easily be transplanted into any game system or campaign setting. As a final note, I must acknowledge a tremendous source document that made this article possible. I am fortunate to have in my possession a copy of the "Militia List of the Dominion of Canada" as of 1st January 1888. This document lists all infantry, cavalry, artillery and engineering units of the militia, as well as all garrisons, schools and training establishments. The crowning piece of glory this document provides is a listing, by name and seniority date, of every officer from Second-Lieutenant to General! Documents such as these are invaluable resources for Game Masters. I obtained my copy at little or no cost from the Directorate of History at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa, Canada. I have no doubt that it would be possible to obtain similar documents from your own respective government offices. If you are planning an ongoing military campaign (either miniatures or role-playing) set in the Victorian Era, then I strongly urge game masters to obtain such documents, to assist in filling out their Orders of Battle.

The Canadian Military Establishment

In 1889, the Dominion of Canada is an independent nation, though it remains within the British Empire. Within the Canadian Government, the Department of the Militia is tasked with the responsibility of raising and maintaining military forces for the defence of Canada. The Minister for Defence and Militia, The Honourable Sir Adolphe Caron, KCMG, handles the day-to-day matters of the Department, while actual command of the Militia for the Dominion rests in the hands of Major-General Sir Frederick Douglas Middleton, KCMG, CB. As the Queen's representative in Canada, The Governor-General, Sir Frederick Arthur Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley of Preston, is the nominal Commander-In-Chief of the Militia.

The Canadian Militia of the period is organized into the traditional branches of Cavalry, Artillery, Engineers and Infantry. Unlike the information listed in Soldier's Companion however, active duty militia units consisted of more than a single cavalry regiment and a lone infantry battalion. The actual "Active" component of the Militia consisted of two cavalry regiments: the 1st (Hussars) and 2nd (Dragoons) Cavalry Regiments respectively, three batteries of Field Artillery, one company of Engineers, and four battalions of infantry (the three School battalions, along with the Governor General's Foot Guards). The "Reserve" Militia Establishment of the time boasts a force composed of an additional 6 Regiments of Cavalry and 5 Independent Cavalry Troops, 14 batteries of Field Artillery, 20 batteries of Garrison Artillery, 1 Mountain Artillery Battery, 3 Engineering Companies, and 90 battalion-sized Regiments of Infantry with five Independent Rifle(Infantry) Companies. With these sorts of forces available to call upon, a request for troops from England would have been well met by Canada, and quite rapidly, too. As described in Soldier's Companion page 154-155, the Canadian Government has already provided the 2nd (Royal Canadian) Dragoon Regiment and a composite platoon from "A" Company, 62nd St John Fusiliers (Amazonians) for service with the British Army on Mars.

A second important piece of information is that a significant number of the Canadian troops deployed at this time would have been more seasoned campaigners and experienced soldiers than some recruited units, as the Canadian Militia had been engaged in small scale campaigns at regular intervals since 1867. These actions included the two Fenian Invasions from the Untied States in 1867 and 1871; The Red River Rebellion of 1870 (suppressed by Canadian Militia units under the command of then Colonel Garnet Wolseley); The Sudan Campaigns (1882 and 1884-85); and the Riel Rebellion of 1885 which lasted for almost a year and involved three columns of troops (consisting of some three regiments of cavalry, four field batteries, and 10 battalions of infantry under the command of Major-General Sir Frederick Middleton) before it was finally suppressed. As no regular British troops had been stationed in Canada since 1868, these campaigns were conducted solely by Canadian Militia units. Thus by 1889, the Canadian Militia is an experienced, battle-tested organization, fully capable of deploying large numbers of troops in defence of the Empire.

Arms & Equipment

The weapons of the Canadian Troops are standard British issue for the period; Martini-Henry Rifles for the Infantry; Carbines for the Dragoons, Webley-Green Model 1882 Revolvers for Officers and Hussars, and Swords (by Wilkinson) for Officers and Cavalrymen. In 1885, the Canadian Militia had upgraded their soldiers from Snider-Enfield Rifles and Carbines to the Martini-Henry, although large stocks of the Snider-Enfield could still be found in the major Militia Armories in Montreal and Toronto. Ammunition supply was no problem, as the Government Cartridge Factory in Quebec City was capable of producing one million cartridges in a 10-day period.

For the artillery units, the majority of Field Batteries were equipped with 9 and 12-pound Rifled Breech-Loading Guns, though one of the Active Militia Field Batteries (C Battery), was equipped with Hotchkiss 6-Pounder Revolving Cannons and three 1-Inch Gatling Guns. Amongst the Garrison Artillery Batteries, 20, 32, and 40-pound Guns were common, though the batteries located at Victoria and Halifax were equipped with 5-inch and 6-inch Howitzers in addition to their other guns.

While the uniforms of the Canadian troops generally followed the standard British patterns of the time, there were some uniquely Canadian distinctions. For example, all line infantry wore the same blue facings on their scarlet tunic, while the rifle regiments held to the dark green jackets with scarlet facings, and black accouterments. The Governor General's Foot Guards (similar to the Guards Regiments of the British Army) were known for their Black Bearskin headdress and grey overcoats. Away from the traditional uniforms of the regular cavalry regiments, the independent troops of cavalry and scouts were inclined to wear buckskin jackets in place of issued tunics, as the buckskins were more comfortable and durable. All troops, be they infantry, cavalry or artillery were in the habit of carrying "unauthorized" equipment (such as extra hunting and bush knifes, moccasins, etc). Rural Canadian troops tended towards a more "Western" style of headdress, mainly bush hats and Stetsons as opposed to the issued pith helmets and shakos worn by the city regiments. Whenever deployed overseas however, all Canadian troops wore a Maple Leaf insignia (a gold Maple Leaf on a red shield with the word Canada underneath) on the left shoulder of their jackets.

Just as the uniforms of the Canadian troops could be distinct, so too could the troops themselves. Units such as Steele's Scouts (formed from members of the North West Mounted Police and various trappers, fur traders, and frontiersmen) stood in contrast to the ordered and trained horsemen of the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Cavalry. The green-jacketed ranks of the Queen's Own Rifles may have been indistinguishable from any similar rifle regiment in British service, but the blue-jacketed, toque-wearing (a 'toque' is a Canadian knitted cap), predominantly French-speaking men of the 9th Voltigeurs de Quebec Infantry would probably have been more at home in the French Army. The grey-jacketed, bearskin-clad Guardsmen of the Governor General's Foot Guards always stood out in the line from the scarlet-tunics and white helmets of the regular line infantry. Likewise, the khaki-skirted women who comprised "A" Company of the 62nd St John Fusiliers were definitely different from their male counterparts in the other companies, or their own Company commander, Captain Edward Sturdee. Surely the "Amazons" must stand as a "Uniquely Canadian" phenomenon. While the total number of women in "A" Company is not known, there were certainly enough of them to form more at least two platoons, and possibly a third as well.


One area of shortfall in the Canadian Military Establishment though, was seapower. Despite its reasonably-strong land forces, Canada maintained no major naval forces of its own. Instead, elements of the Royal Navy were based on Canada's shores at two major naval bases - the port Halifax on the East Coast and Victoria on the West Coast. These British Squadrons were supported and maintained by wholly-Canadian coasters, patrol boats and resupply vessels. While Canada did not have any major warships of their own, Canadian men served throughout the Royal Navy, and could be found anywhere the Royal Navy sailed. To portray the Canadian vessels in use at the time, any of the British coasters and patrol boats listed in Ironclads and Ether Flyers could be used to represent Canadian naval vessels if such a situation was necessary.

Using the Canadian Militia

For those interested in bringing more colonial military forces into their campaign setting, allow me to offer the following situation:

By May of 1889, the war with Oenotrian has settled down to a mere staring contest between the two sides. After the early field operations by both the British and the Oenotrians, neither side seems willing to commit themselves to a major engagement and appear content to maneuver for the best position. Back in England however, where the Fleet Street papers publish reports of British Territory still occupied by an invader and no victory in sight. In response to these stories, an aroused public begins looking for scapegoats to blame. With fresh memories of the poor performance by Sudanese troops during the recent Mahdist War, and the older memory of the Indian Mutiny still fresh, a clamour begins for more British troops to be sent to Mars, rather than relying upon locally raised Martian forces. The Salisbury Government, unwilling to commit more British troops but unable to withstand public pressure, compromises by soliciting military aid from its colonial realms. Responding to this overture, by the end of the year the following Canadian troops have either arrived at, or are en route to Mars:

1st Canadian Field Force(Brigade) - Colonel William Hayes Jackson

- B Coy/1 Bn/Queens Own Rifles of Canada (86) - Major Joseph Martin Delamere

- 2 Bn/Royal Regiment of Canadian Infantry (559) - Lieutenant-Colonel William Dillon Otter

- 2 Batteries of Field Artillery (123) - Lieutenant-Colonel Charles E. Montizambert

- 1 Company of Engineers (89) - Captain William Kennedy

Note: Colonel Jackson, former Deputy Adjutant General and Commander of Military District No. 1, now finds himself in the position of Brigade Commander. A long service officer with eight years experience as District Commander, Jackson has surrounded himself with experienced, veteran officers. Like Jackson, Lieutenant-Colonel Otter is a veteran of both the Fenian Invasion and the Northwest Rebellion; as is Major Delamere. Lieutenant-Colonel Montizambert commanded a field battery during the Northwest Rebellion, and Captain Kennedy is a long service officer with several years experience as company commander.

The Canadian Government has insisted that their forces serve together as a single formation, to which the British Government has agreed. While Colonel Jackson was able to have Captain Edward Sturdee's Composite Platoon from "A" Company, 62nd St John Fusiliers (Amazonians) transferred to his command easily enough, his attempts to arrange the transfer of Lieutenant-Colonel John Gregory's 2nd (Royal Canadian) Dragoons Regiment from the Colonial Light Horse to his own formation has met with little success so far.

Now, if you really want to get the flavour of an "Empire at War", just combine this Canadian Field Force with an Peter Shutze's Australian Brigade; throw in some Indian or Ghurka units, and you have the 3rd (Colonial) Division of the British Army on Mars! For those of you who like lots of controversy and lack decorum, just substitute the 2nd Battalion/62nd St John Fusiliers for the 2nd Battalion/Royal Canadian Regiment above. After all, if General Willis is offended by having a single platoon of "Amazonians" under his command, imagine the reaction when the remainder of the women in "A" Company arrive at the head of the 62nd Fusiliers!


Department of National Defence for Canada. The Militia List of the Dominion of Canada - Corrected to 1st January, 1888 Queen's Printer, Ottawa, 1889.

Dunn, Jack F. The Alberta Field Force of 1885 J. Dunn, Calgary, 1994

Harris, Stephen J. Canadian Brass, The Making of a Professional Army 1860-1939University of Toronto Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8020-5765-9

Morton, Desmond. The Last War Drum Hakkert, Toronto, 1972.

Last Updated Monday, 04-May-2009 19:53:48 EDT

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