Parks Canada Banner
Parks Canada Home

Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 4

The Second Battalion, Quebec Rifles, at Lower Fort Garry

by William R. Morrison

Raising the Battalions

The Canadian contingent was made up of militia, one battalion from Ontario, called the First Battalion, Ontario Rifles, and one from Quebec, called the Second Battalion, Quebec Rifles. The first comprised 382, all ranks, and the second, 389. The ground rules for the Canadian part of the expedition were laid down by Colonel P. Robertson-Ross, the Adjutant-General of Militia, in a letter of 15 April 1870 to Sir G.-E. Cartier, the Minister of Militia and Defence, a copy of which is found in Appendix A. Robertson-Ross proposed to raise two battalions of seven companies each, one from Ontario and one from Quebec, of 382 men each, all ranks included. Enlistment was to be entirely voluntary, and the volunteers were to be drawn as far as possible from the active militia. The volunteers were to engage to serve for at least one year but not more than two. These were to be between 18 and 45 years of age, of "good character, sober habits, and physically fit for the service." Preference was to be given to men willing to settle in the West.

The two battalions were to be "clothed as Riflemen,"4 and were to be armed and equipped in the following manner:

1Short Snider Enfield Rifle and Sword Bayonet and Accoutrements, complete 60 rounds service ammunition
1tin plate and mug
1waterproof sheet
1cloth (Rifle) tunic
1pair cloth trousers
1forage cap
1pair beef boots
1pair ankle boots
1linen blouse and pair of trousers
1mosquito net

There was also to be a "free kit," consisting of:

2flannel shirts
2pairs socks
1pair braces
2linen towels
1knife, fork & spoon with hold-all
1cloth brush
2blacking brushes
1box blacking
1tin waterproof blacking
2darning needles
1piece darning yarn
2ordinary needles
1hank of thread
1piece of soap

In addition to which for the winter there was to be provided:

1tunic (cloth)
1pair cloth trousers
1winter cap (fur)
1pair mitts
2knitted undershirts
2pairs knitted drawers

Further information on the kit given to the troops is found in a memo entitled "List of stores supplied to the Red River expedition,"6 which mentions:

Frocks, blue serge
Frocks, green, S/Sgts. and Sgts.
Frocks, green, Rank and File

Much the same equipment appears in Robertson-Ross request of 16 April 1870 for permission to purchase supplies.7 The additional items are presumably for the teamsters, voyageurs, and other auxiliaries to the expedition. They are:

14bugles with green cords
73linen tents
76camp kettles
150chopping axes

It was proposed that "the Rifles, accoutrements, ammunition, knapsacks, camp-kettles and bugles be drawn from the Imperial Stores on payment in the usual way, that the clothing, ankle-boots, tents, blankets, and necessaries be drawn from Militia Stores on payment and that the most economical contracts be made for the delivery of the other articles without delay, so as to enable the men to take a complete outfit with them and to provide for sending the second set of uniform and winter necessaries to the North West at a later period in the season."8

Also on the subject of supplies for the expedition, it is interesting to note that the government saw fit to supply it with 750 linen bandages and 750 "cholera belts."9

John A. Macdonald's sensible scheme of getting as many French Canadians into the expedition as possible, to draw the teeth of protest from Quebec was, unfortunately, not as successful as he had hoped. While the Ontario Rifles filled its ranks quickly, and even had a waiting list of those wanting to join, recruiting for the Quebec Rifles proceeded very slowly. The Quebec press was ill-disposed toward the expedition. One of Wolseley's staff described the situation:

The Quebec battalion was not so fortunate in its enrolment. The French Canadians, naturally averse to military service, were deterred from enlisting by the exhortations of their clergy, who, in many of the parishes in Lower Canada, publicly dissuaded their flocks from joining a regiment "about to be sent to fight against their bretheren in the North-West."10

English-speaking Canadians from Quebec were eligible for the battalion, but it was popularly supposed that they were in many cases unwilling to enlist because of the fact that two-thirds of the officers of the battalion were French-speaking.11 Whether or not this supposition is true would be difficult to establish, but the upshot of it all was that the vacancies in the Quebec Rifles had to be filled from Ontario. Of the 362 noncommissioned ranks of the Quebec battalion, only 77 were French Canadian.12 Thus the expedition lost at the beginning whatever bipartisan character it was supposed to have, especially since Ontario began to see it more and more as a holy war against the French-speaking murderers of Thomas Scott.

The final composition of the two battalions was as shown in Table 1. It is interesting to note that by far the largest single national group was made up of those born in England, although the Canadian-born did outnumber the British-born.

Table 1. The Composition of the First Two Battalions.

NationalityFirst Battalion Second Battalion
(as of 23 June 1870)
Born in Canada,
Other English-speaking4021

Born in Canada of foreign parents418


Roman Catholic25126

Discharged after enrollment as physically unfit32313

previous Next

Last Updated: 2006-10-24 To the top
To the top