Surprising Canadians
Toy Soldier Collector International|February - March 2021
Guy Elliott looks at the largely unknown military history of his native land.
Guy Elliott

Most people are unaware of the military history of the Canadian people. The readers of this magazine will, however, be far more knowledgeable than most on this topic. And yet I think there are many campaigns and military units in Canadian history that will be a surprise even to them. Let's see.

From its very founding in the early seventeenth century New France needed protection from the British, the American colonists, and their Iroquois allies. New France (Quebec), like all French colonies, came under the control of the French Navy and so most of the time the majority of the soldiers were raised by them and termed ‘Compagnies Franches de la Marine’. The men were always from France but very soon in New France all of their officers were Canadian-born. Recruitment was on the basis that the men would, upon the end of their service, remain and settle in Canada. In their off-duty time, the men worked in the local community and soon became veritable Canadians. They also worked and fought alongside the allied indigenous warriors and became feared guerilla fighters, helping eventually to inflict defeats on George Washington and later General Braddock. There was, in effect, the first Canadian military. Most of the fighting occurred in forests and along rivers and lakes, but when General Wolfe's troops arrived in 1759 the fighting also took place among settled farms and villages. To help scout and patrol the New France Cavalry Corps was raised with a strength of around two hundred men. Both these and the local militia sets were done by Bill Skinner of the Scottish Toy Soldier Company, who would do custom sets for any time period but who really loved the eighteenth century.

From the end of the American Revolution in 1783, there was always the fear of invasion from Britain's former North American Colonies. It was decidedly cheaper to raise units in the remaining colonies and incorporate them into the regular British Army than to dispatch units from Britain. One of these units was the New Brunswick Regiment. The set shown is from castings made by Giles Brown of Dorset Miniatures. Their uniform was so far from what one thinks of British uniforms of the 1790s that they had to be included in this article. (Any castings or conversions shown in this article were done by the author.)

In 1812 for a variety of reasons, the United States declared war on Britain. The only way to hurt Britain was to invade Canada, which it did repeatedly. Most of these took place in Upper Canada (now Ontario) but in 1813 the Americans invaded Lower Canada (now Quebec) to try and capture Montreal. On 26 October at Chateauguay, the invading army was soundly defeated by a force of some 1,500 Quebec militia (some in uniform, some in civilian clothes) and indigenous warriors under command of Colonel De Salaberry. The figures in the photo are a series of single figures from Britains and Scott Dummitt Presents showing the variety of Canadians who served at the battle. Raised around Montreal but seeing hard service in Upper Canada was the Canadian Light Dragoons. I had wanted to do this regiment for a while, but I couldn’t find the Tarleton helmets they wore in any list of castings. Once again I contacted Giles Brown who replied that, while these were not in his catalog, he could certainly produce those heads for me.

The War of 1812 had only heightened the fears of another American invasion and forts were built and improved. No invasion came for fifty years but soldiers still had to man those forts. There was no glory for those men but as the saying goes, ‘They also serve who stand and wait.’ Raised for this service in 1840 was the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment. It was part of the regular British Army, with all soldiers having at least fifteen years of good service and nearing the end of their enlistment. They were promised a preferential choice of free farmland at the time of retirement. As old soldiers with good records they were unlikely to be rowdy and fitted in well with the community, thus tying the fort and the garrison to the community. This set was produced by 'Queen Victoria’, a local Toronto maker.

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