A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

The Value of the Militia

Problems of the Permanent Force

That said, what was the real value of the training received by these volunteers - on whom Canada was relying, let us not forget, both to defend the country in the event of threat and to maintain and restore order within its borders? Let us look first at the permanent force, which grew to its authorized strength of 1,000 in the 1880s. In the first place, these 1,000 positions were never completely filled; in 1890-91, for example, only 886 were occupied. In any case, a large percentage of the men reporting were new recruits or inexperienced soldiers who would have found it difficult to deliver professional training to volunteers (in 1891, for example, General Herbert commented that 54 percent of his army had less than two years of service). Then there were all the militiamen who became unavailable in the course of the year. Another report from 1890-91 informs us that 103 bought out of their contracts and left during the year, 201 terminated their contracts, 41 were dismissed for various reasons, eight died, 152 deserted and 28 were in prison for various terms, which cost them periods of service. And during this same year, which was not exceptional, the regular army had to train tens of thousands of militiamen, of whom a large percentage were recruits.

But this training was also being delivered by qualified officers within the volunteer corps. In some cases this was somehow successful; in others the training was of poor quality. A large number of these officers were too old: A lieutenant could serve past age 40, and it was quite common to find majors over 50 and lieutenant-colonels over 60. The least effective training officers were those in the rural corps, since in the cities training was often in the hands of professionals.