The 1855 Volunteers

Trooper, 1st Troop of Volunteer Militia Cavalry of the County of York, circa 1855

Caption: Trooper, 1st Troop of Volunteer Militia Cavalry of the County of York, circa 1855

The commission's conclusions, which were put into effect in a Militia Act passed in 1855, were not at all along these lines, opposing the idea of the Province of Canada maintaining regular troops. However, the legislators in the end agreed to free up some money to help the volunteers, called the Active Militia. Henceforth, the government would be responsible for supplying weapons and ammunition, for paying for the days set aside for drill, and for allocating compensation to cover the costs of the uniforms for the 5,000 volunteers spread among a number of companies of riflemen, cavalry and artillery.

These measures were welcomed enthusiastically. All the planned companies were recruited quickly, while hundreds of other volunteers demanded from the government the right to establish supplementary companies, which they were granted in 1856. Designated class B companies, they were supplied with weapons and were paid for the uniform. As an economy measure, however, they were not paid for drill days.

Nevertheless, in 1857, an unprecedented number of volunteers - 5,300 - enlisted, and were armed, clothed and trained. The new system required that all these companies be registered with the Office of the Militia Adjutant-General if they were to benefit from the provisions of the 1855 and 1856 statutes. This requirement led to "unjust" situations in terms of precedents and seniority. For example, a company of riflemen established in 1854 in Montreal was registered first and thereby became the volunteer militia company with the most seniority, whereas in the same city there had been a volunteer cavalry company since 1812! To this very day the unexpected repercussions of this act sometimes cause public servants working for the Department of National Defence and the unit commanders some grief.

Independently of their seniority, all the companies were suitably armed. The riflemen were given the model 1853 Enfield with a rifled barrel, which had recently been adopted by the regular army. Along with their sabres, the troopers were given the new Colt six-shot revolver. The artillery pieces were also the latest models being used in the regular army.