Reorganization of the Militia

Oregon Crisis Prompts Action

The whole issue of the Canadian militia remained confused during these years. It was almost impossible to raise the subject in Parliament because the arguments became so heated. Things remained this way until 1845, when a major crisis with the United States occured, over Oregon. Elected to the rallying cry of "Fifty-four Forty or Fight," President James Knox Polk encouraged Americans to fight if Great Britain refused to cede the territory west of the Rockies up to the 54°40' line. The fever pitch of American Manifest Destiny, with Texas annexed and war declared against Mexico, led Canadian legislators in the end to vote in June 1846 for a new Militia Act. The Act's intent was to harmonize and extend most of the provisions of earlier statutes. Henceforth, all men aged 18 to 60 would be required to serve in Sedentary Militia regiments, but they would be divided into two classes, the first consisting of men under 40 years of age. In the event of an emergency, up to 30,000 militiamen could be called to serve in active militia battalions.

The Act was innovative insofar as it officially recognized the existence of the volunteer corps. It thus legalized a de facto situation and enshrined the principle of voluntarism for the universal requirement to bear arms. It is in effect a reasonably sound principle to count on men who wish to serve their community to be citizen soldiers. But the Canadian government gave them virtually no assistance. They had to train and procure uniforms and horses at their own expense before receiving weapons from the government. These conditions limited the number of potential candidates to a minority with the time and money needed to be volunteers.