A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

The Militiaman and His Training

Militia Budgets

Aspects of a summer training camp for volunteer militia units, 1875

Caption: Aspects of a summer training camp for volunteer militia units, 1875

The life of the Canadian militiaman was shaped by the size of the budgets allocated to the organization in which he enlisted. These appropriations rose from $937,513 in 1869 to $1,654,282 in 1873, then fell to a low of $580,421 in 1877. Between the years 1878 and 1881 they fluctuated between $618,136 (1878) and $777,698 (1879). Between 1882 and 1886 they rose from a low of $772,811, reaching a peak of $4,022,080 during the North-West Campaign. After that, total annual budgets ran slightly above $1 million.

It can be seen that the situation deteriorated in the second half of the 1870s, when an economic crisis hit the industrial world. The politicians' time-honoured solution, then as now, was to cut the defence budget. There was no shortage of critics in Parliament. The most common argument ran as follows: Since Canada's security is not at stake, what good will military spending do? More detailed criticism related to the wastage of money on uniforms (which were not provided to volunteers until 1876) and weapons, the over-abundance of officers in headquarters and, after 1876, the virtual absence of Francophones at the RMC in Kingston.

The cuts in the training budget had a considerable impact following 1876, even when the RMC had been added to existing institutions. During the 1871-72 fiscal year, 34,414 men underwent 16 days of training - a peak that would not be reached again until 1905. The authorized number of volunteers for annual training had been set at 40,000 in 1868 but was cut to 30,000 in 1873. The drill period was reduced to eight days in 1876; it was raised to 12 in 1877, but this training had to be delivered at battalion headquarters rather than at camp. In 1888 the maximum authorized strength was increased to 43,000 men, but to save money only 37,000 were allowed to enlist. The city corps assembled 10,000 men for the 12-day annual exercise, while the rural corps gathered together 27,000 for 12 days of training every two years. Between 1877 and 1886, however, the number of men attending annual training rarely exceeded 20,000, the average being around 18,000.