A Semi-Autonomous Defence (1871-1898)

The Value of the Militia

Improvements Sought by the General Officers Commanding

Some solutions were suggested, particularly by the successive General Officers Commanding who over the years managed to gradually improve the entire system, focusing their efforts on the permanent force to the extent that their ministers would allow.

Many Canadian militiamen proposed their own solutions. Consider those advanced in 1874 by Lieutenant-Colonel Gustave D'Odet d'Orsonnens, whose many appointments during his career in the Permanent Militia included commander of the military school founded at St Jean in 1883. In his view, the schools (which were few in number in 1874) should have been replaced by permanent regiments in which candidates for ranks in the volunteer Non-Permanent Militia would be required to serve three months in the element of their choosing. This approach would be more or less implemented in the 1880s and 1890s through a series of reforms rooted in the Act of 1883.

D'Orsonnens would also have favoured a regular army composed of several special corps whose captains could be commissioned as militia lieutenant-colonels and commanders of militia regiments on active service. This army would in a sense serve as a staff school, its officers forming the staff of the Confederation. In peacetime this army could be kept busy on major public works. The militia would rely on conscription except in towns and cities, where there could be volunteer corps recruiting for a four-year term with annual training periods lasting from 10 to 14 days.

These volunteer militia units would be divided proportionately among Canada's various regions, but since the "volunteers" would be conscripts, the battalion rosters would be full, offering a countrywide total strength of 15,040 men in 1874. During their first two years of service the militiamen would train in their respective headquarters; in the third year a camp would be held at the brigade level; and in the fourth year a camp would be held at the divisional level.

D'Orsonnens was especially partial to proportional representation, advocating 82 regimental divisions in Ontario (with 6,560 men), 70 in Quebec (with 5,600 men) and the remainder of the country in proportion: "Assuring each Province its right to provide its contingent would be a fair and reasonable political act ... but assuring the rights of its fellow citizens (nationals) by a well-ordered Constitution would be further to fulfil a sacred duty to nationality. This is why the army's ranks must be maintained in the proportions given above, as a guarantee of the future of each Province." 19