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Militia Acts of 1787 and 1793

Quebec and Upper Canada

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Militia Records

In 1783, after the American Revolution, the lands that are today southern Ontario were part of the Province of Quebec. Upper Canada was formed in 1791 by the passing of the  Constitutional Act. This web page is focused on the development of the Militia in Upper Canada from its pre 1791 roots to the War of 1812.

It helps in looking for early militia lists to have some basic understanding of the structure of the militia.

The account below is put together from the first two sources.
  1. The Canadian Militia: a history of the origin and development of the Force, Ernest J Chambers, 1907, Montreal, Fresco
  2. Soldiers of the King: The Upper Canadian Militia 1812 - 1815, William Gray, Stoddart, 1995.
  3. Here is one extra reference: Historical Narratives of Early Canada - an account about the early militia in Upper Canada.

Excerpts from Canadian Militia by Ernest Chambers, 1907, Chapter 4
"June 13th, 1787
, Lord Dorchester (formerly Guy Carleton) wrote to Lord Sydney announcing the passing by the Council of "An Act to Regulate the Militia." The ordinance provided for detachments being embodied for two years; Dorchester would have preferred three.

In 1791, the Constitutional Act was passed dividing the old colony of Quebec into two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada; from which time, until the passage of the Act of Union in 1842 the militias of Upper and Lower Canada were distinct forces under separate staffs and separate laws.

While the Constitutional Act was under discussion, Lord Dorchester, the governor, urged upon the British government the importance of establishing "a respectable militia." He wrote: "To affect this in Canada a law was passed in 1787, enabling the governor to embody draughts to serve for two years in rotation, under a permanent corps of officers. This measure has not yet been carried into execution. It should be extended to all the king’s colonies.

By 1791, thanks largely to the settlement of the United Empire Loyalists, the population of Upper Canada had attained such dimensions as to give weight to the expressed wish of the inhabitants, to whom the French laws and usages of the old the Province of Quebec were irksome, that they be accorded a separate government, hence the Constitutional Act [passed in 1791]. In the light of present development, the population of Upper Canada at that time does not seem very considerable, being only about twenty-five thousand, but it was a population strongly imbued with pure patriotic principles and high military spirit.

We are able to form some idea of the feelings of the men of Upper Canada of that time from the knowledge that the first business of the second session of the first parliament of Upper Canada, March 31st, 1793 was the passage of a Militia Act (33 George III. Chap. 1). Up to this time, according to section xxxiii of the Constitutional Act (31st George III. Chap, xxxi [1791]) all laws, statutes and ordinances which had been in force in the original Province of Quebec continued to be of the same force, authority and effect in the province as if the Act in question had not been passed.

The original Upper Canada Militia Act was drafted by Governor Simcoe himself and provided for the organization of the provincial militia on a system very closely indeed approximating to that then existing in England.

The period of service was for three years, the age limits being 18 to 50, with certain exemptions. An Act passed in 1758 was the first to officially recognize volunteers as counting toward the quota.

With certain very natural limitations, the whole male population between the ages of 16 and 50, composed the militia. Every lad on attaining the age of sixteen was obliged to enroll himself with the militia officer in charge of the district under penalty, for neglect, of a fine of four dollars. This first militia of Upper Canada was some thing more than a sedentary militia; though not much more perhaps. The force was divided into regiments and companies, and every company had to be paraded and inspected by its captain at least twice a year, a serious enough obligation in those days, with the difficult means of communication taken into consideration. Though there was no provision for pay for these parades, the officer who absented himself was liable to a fine of eight dollars, and the private to one of two dollars for each offence.

There was no provision in this Act for the training of the officers and non-commissioned officers, a most obvious shortcoming for any practical militia enactment …..

The country at this particular time had in fact all the trained officers it was likely to require, and it must not be forgotten that many of the more ordinary pioneer settlers of those days, the men who would compose the rank and file of the infant militia force, were also men who had seen military service.

The first enrolment under this Act produced a force of 4,213. The result appears to have fallen short of expectations, and in the following year (1794) the Militia Act of Upper Canada was amended so as to make men up to sixty years of age eligible for the militia, and the scope of the force was at the same time extended, the militiamen becoming liable for service on the war vessels on the lakes.

By 1805 with Britain, fighting on in her old grim way in Europe, almost isolated, with Canada practically denuded of regular troops, and with the spirit of hostility developing apace in the United States, the question of national defence had again assumed serious importance. The militia were especially warned to hold themselves in readiness, and some 4,000 stands of arms were distributed among them. A return of the militia showed that there were 652 officers and 7,947 non-commissioned officers and men enrolled, but also revealed the disquieting fact that of the whole number only 200 had received any training for several years.

In 1808, at the fourth session of the fourth Parliament of Upper Canada, all of the existing Acts, relative to the militia were repealed their provisions, with some vitally important amendments, being consolidated into one comprehensive Act (Chap. 48, George III), which received the assent of Lieutenant-Governor Gore, March 16th 1808. The new Act provided for much more organization within the militia, and enabled the Governor to march the militia out of the province to the assistance of Lower Canada ….

Among the provisions of this important Act were the following: Officers in the regular army were given precedence over militia officers. Each district was to have its regiment, and each company its own limits. The limits of age were fixed at 16 to 60 those between 50 and 60 being exempted, except in case of emergency. There was an annual muster day, a mere formal, personal enrolment, and the man absenting himself was liable to a penalty of a fine of two dollars. The Act still adhered to the original Saxon militia rule as to armament, providing as follows: Each militiaman, after enrolment, shall within six months after such enrolment provide himself with a good and efficient musket, fusil, rifle or gun with at least such six rounds of powder and ball." For failure to comply with this law he was liable to a fine of five shillings in peace time, and a larger one in war time, unless excused by his commanding officer.

Training was aimed at, but in a very modest and imperfect manner. The law obliged captains to call out their companies not less than twice nor oftener than four times each year for arm inspection and training. One clause of the Act, the 31st, authorized the formation of troops of cavalry in the various regimental districts ….

At the session of 1811 a bill was passed providing for the raising and training of the Upper Canada militia, and on the 30th of September of the same year Lieutenant-Governor Francis Gore resigned the government of Upper Canada into the hands of Major General Isaac Brock, formerly commandant of the garrison of Quebec, and of the British troops in Canada. The parliament of Upper Canada in 1812 voted 5000 pounds sterling for the training of the provincial militia. The population of the province was small compared with the older province, and its revenue comparatively insignificant. At the close of the war the whole population of Upper Canada did not quite number 84,000 souls.

This makes the successful defence of the country, considering the small number of regular troops in the province, all the more remark able. On the breaking out of hostilities with the United States in 1812 the regular force in Upper Canada amounted to barely 1,500 men, including seamen …."


A few notes made from Soldiers of the King by William Gray
The Militia Act of 1808 set out a few exemptions from serving in the Militia. Quakers, Mennonites and Tunkers who had "certain scruples of conscience" against bearing arms were exempted on the payment of 20 shillings in peace time and 5 in war time. Also exempted were judges of the King's Bench, clergy, members of the legislative and executive councils and their respective officers, members of the House of Assembly and their respective officers, civil officers of the province, magistrates, sheriffs, coroners, half pay officers, militia officers who held a commission in any of King's dominions, surveyor general and his deputies, employed seafaring men, physicians, surgeons, master of public schools, ferymen, one miller per grist mill. Though these men were exempt many did in fact hold commissions in the militia.

Regiments were formed along County lines. Each Regiment was to consist of 8 to 10 companies and was overseen by a Colonel, Lt Col. and a Major. If there were only 5 to 8 companies then the unit was called a Battalion and also
overseen by a Colonel, Lt Col. and a Major. Each company had between 20 to 50 privates and were headed by a Captain.

In 1812, Brock amended the Act to allow companies to have up to 100 men to form Flank Companies. This was rescinded in 1813.

Regiments were called out at least once a year on June 4, King George III's birthday. Captains were to call out their companies 2 to 4 times a year and there were fines for absence or disobedience.

No militia man could serve more than six months and men over 50 were only called out if the whole militia was embodied. Men could provide a substitute if only part of the company was called out.