A Decade of Turbulence

An Anglophile Militia

Canadian Militia Unpopular with Francophones

Infantry Arms drill, 1863

Caption: Infantry Arms drill, 1863

While people were rushing to cheer the Zouaves, there were only 7,000 volunteer militiamen of French descent out of 12,600 volunteers in Quebec - from a population of 1.3 million, 80 percent of which was French Canadian. How can this disproportion be explained?

Many French Canadians were uncomfortable with the volunteer militia. They felt excluded from an institution that had been designed and managed by and for "the English" and for those among them who wished to get involved in "a sort of playing at soldiers" 137 of the British Empire. The language of the high command was English, although there were some efforts to use French - for example, the drill manual was translated. With the exception of Quebec City, all the officer training schools established in 1864 were run in English. During the Fenian invasion the commanding general of the British Forces in North America, Sir John Michel, ordered the Francophone units in the joint brigade to use only English in order to achieve uniformity in the language of command. 138 In general, however, the units that were completely French Canadian did use French, not only out of pride but also because their members did not understand English at all or not well enough. The fact remains that many French Canadians were offended to see their mother tongue barely tolerated and they turned their backs on the Canadian militia, which appeared to them an instrument of assimilation.