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Government of Canada recognizes the creation of Canada’s permanent military force as a national historic event

After Confederation in 1867, Britain began to withdraw its military forces from Canada and defence became a federal responsibility. The resulting creation of a permanent military force in Canada ended more than a century of dependence on Britain and represented the beginnings of military professionalization in the country.

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, announced the designation of the Creation of Canada’s Permanent Military Force (1871–1883) as an event of national historic significance under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration.

For more than one hundred years following the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763), the British Army and Royal Navy continued to defend British North America with support from local militias and in partnership with First Nations allies. The Canadian government assumed it could continue to rely on Britain after Confederation, even as the number of British troops in Canada fell from roughly 15,700 in 1867 to 4,000 in 1869. By 1871, Britain had withdrawn all its forces, except for garrisons at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Esquimalt, British Columbia.

Though there was little popular or political support for the creation of a standing army at the time, Canada put in place the elements that would be the basis of a permanent force for the country. Garrisons were established at Fort Henry in Kingston and at the Québec Citadel to help train officers and men and take charge of the fortifications, magazines, armaments, artillery, and stores left behind by the British. In 1876, the Royal Military College of Canada was established, and the passage of the Militia Act of 1883 expanded the permanent force and authorized the formation of new cavalry, artillery, and infantry schools.

The Government of Canada, through the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, recognizes significant persons, places, and events that have shaped our country as one way of helping Canadians connect with their past. By sharing these stories with Canadians, we hope to foster understanding and reflection on the diverse histories, cultures, legacies, and realities of Canada’s past and present.

The designation process under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration is largely driven by public nominations. To date, more than 2,240 designations have been made nationwide. For more information on how to nominate a person, place or event of historic importance, please visit Parks Canada’s website: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/culture/clmhc-hsmbc/ncp-pcn/application.

“The establishment of a permanent Canadian military force contributed to greater independence for a young nation and set the stage for military service as a profession in Canada. National historic designations reflect Canada’s rich and varied history and I encourage all Canadians to learn more about the creation of Canada’s permanent military force and its important contributions to Canada’s heritage.”

The Honourable Steven Guilbeault
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada

“The creation of Canada’s permanent military force is a watershed moment in Canadian history. After long relying on British forces for their protection, with the creation of permanent force units such as A and B Batteries in Kingston and Quebec City, the young dominion was taking its first tenuous steps towards its own professional military and assuming responsibility for its own national defence. Although there was still a long road to travel, we can see in the creation of Canada’s early permanent military units the origins of what would eventually become a world-renowned, professional, armed forces.”

Colonel David W. Grebstad, CD, MA, MDS

ADDITIONAL INFO

  • The creation of A and B Batteries of garrison artillery at Fort Henry in Kingston and at the Québec Citadel were responsible for training the militia at two new schools of gunnery and for safeguarding the magazines, armaments, artillery, and stores left behind by the British Army. These batteries of garrison artillery laid the foundations for the permanent force and, in 1873, became the first full-time, regular army units in Canada, reorganized in 1883 as the Regiment of Canadian Artillery.
  • These early military forces did not reflect the diversity of Canadian society at the time, as racialized people and Indigenous Peoples faced barriers to military service.
  • Created in 1919, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada advises the Minister of Environment and Climate Change regarding the national significance of persons, places, and events that have marked Canada’s history. Together with Parks Canada, the Board ensures that subjects of national historic significance are recognized under Parks Canada’s National Program of Historical Commemoration and these important stories are shared with Canadians.
  • Parks Canada is committed to working with Canadians in our efforts to tell broader, more inclusive stories in the places that it manages. In support of this goal, the Framework for History and Commemoration outlines a new, comprehensive, and engaging approach to sharing Canada’s history through diverse perspectives, including shedding light on tragic and difficult periods of Canada’s past.

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