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Biography of the Day

GOWER, Sir ERASMUS – Volume V (1801-1820)

b. 3 Dec. 1742 near Cilgerran, Wales


Responsible Government

Sir John A. Macdonald

From the Red River Settlement to Manitoba (1812–70)

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Sir George-Étienne Cartier


The Fenians

Women in the DCB/DBC

The Charlottetown and Quebec Conferences of 1864

Introductory Essays of the DCB/DBC

The Acadians

For Educators

The War of 1812 

Canada’s Wartime Prime Ministers

The First World War

Militia and Defence in Canada


George-Étienne CARTIER was aware that, among the challenges facing the new federal government, national security was the top priority. An experienced legislator and the first to hold the militia and defence portfolio following confederation, he undertook a bold reorganization of the military:

“[Cartier] brought before the House of Commons what he regarded as one of the most important measures in his political career, a militia bill that set up a theoretical force of 700,000 men, authorized the formation of numerous regiments, and was the basis of the Canadian system of defence until the war of 1914 (31 Vict., c.40). In the speech that he delivered on 31 March 1868 to introduce the bill in the House of Commons, Cartier explained that he was establishing an active and a reserve militia comprising all the male residents of Canada, from the ages of 18 to 60. ‘The measure which he was about to introduce... would have afforded,’ he was reported to say, ‘the means of protection and defence required during the last three years, but at a greatly reduced expenditure. Should there be another Fenian invasion they should be met with still stronger force than on the previous occasion. They would make known by their fortifications and militia measure that they were determined to be British....’”


The following excerpt from the biography of George FUTVOYE describes the situation that he faced when he became deputy minister in the Department of Militia and Defence in the spring of 1868:

“Throughout the 1860s Canada was faced with some thorny defence problems: the fear of an American invasion following the defeat of the southern states in 1865; the threat of Fenian raids [see John O’Neill*]; the possibility that Great Britain might withdraw her troops; and the first Métis rebellion under Louis Riel* in 1869–70. The British government strongly encouraged the formation of a Canadian military organization capable of mobilizing part of the population. As a result, in Lower and Upper Canada during the mid 1860s there was a large volunteer militia equipped with modern weapons, and the funds allocated at the time of confederation were adequate. The volunteer militias of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were also in good shape. In 1867, moreover, the British North America Act gave Canada the authority to maintain both permanent and volunteer armed forces. It was thought, therefore, that a department should be organized to deal with all defence matters; on 29 May 1868 Cartier appointed Futvoye as its deputy minister.”


To learn more about issues related to militia and defence in Canada following confederation, consult the following biographies: 

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