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Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace by J.L. Granatstein (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002), 519 pages, maps, illustrations, index, $59.95.
Written by one of Canada's most prominent military historians, Canada's Army is described on its jacket as the "full" history of the Canadian army from its origins in New France to the modern era of "peacekeeping and peacemaking." The book comes well recommended--the former commander of Mobile Command feels Canada's Army "belongs on all concerned citizens' bookshelves"; military historian David Bercuson is definite that it "will become the standard by which other histories of Canada's army will be measured for many years to come," a sentiment echoed by naval historian Marc Milner, who adds that the book is a "must-read for all Canadians who ever wonder about our role in the world." Unfortunately, I cannot agree with these sentiments.
The author informs us (p. xi) that his purpose is to provide "an extended argument for military professionalism" in a nation where, too often, governments have "underfunded the professional military and relied on the militia, the ordinary citizenry in arms." It is Granatstein's belief, as stated in the first sentence (p. 3) of Canada's Army, that the "central myth in the history of Canadian arms is, and always has been, that the colonists and citizens provide their own defence," and, as a result, citizen soldiers with minimal training are preferred to professionals. In English Canada, the author traces the origins of this myth back to Dr. John Strachan, the early 19th century bishop of Upper Canada (Ontario) who lauded the efforts of the provincial militia in repelling American invasion during the War of 1812. He is less definite about its origins in French Canada but assures us (p.5) that the "idea that Canada's defence had been provided primarily by the local militias was taken as a given by both Canadiens and Canadians." Granatstein therefore anchors his central thesis in the pre-Confederation period, although he cautions us (p. xi) that his examination of Canada's army "moves quickly through the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries" as that army "scarcely existed before the dawn of the twentieth century."
I am not at all convinced by the author's assertion that a preference for militia over regular soldiers has always been the "central myth in the history of Canadian arms," particularly in the pre-Confederation period. This statement rings more true from 1867 to 1939, and I believe the marked bias in favour of a militia against a regular military establishment was based primarily on financial considerations--militia are cheaper than regulars, and if there is one theme central to the history of Canada's defence policy since Confederation, it is that its governments have been reluctant in times of peace to spend a single cent more on the army than absolutely necessary, particularly if they could shelter behind the skirts of Britain or the United States, as indeed they have been doing for much of this nation's history.
Contrary to Granatstein's claim, it was regular troops, raised either in Europe or North America, that were the backbone of the defence establishment of the pre-Confederation British and French North American colonies. The first regulars to appear in what later became Canada were mercenary troops hired by the French trading companies granted North American territory by the French crown. Few in number and not very effective, they were replaced in 1665 by the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, a regular unit of the French army. In 1683, the first Compagnies franches de la Marine (independent companies of the Ministry of Marine) arrived and, until 1755, these troupes de la marine, whose enlisted personnel were recruited in Europe but whose officers were Canadiens, were the military mainstay of New France. The troupes de la marine, which have justly been described as "the origin of the regular Canadian armed forces," unfortunately do not receive a single mention in Canada's Army. (1) Faced with the threat of the much larger population of the English colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, the military leaders of New France defended the colony by adopting, as Granatstein points out, elements of aboriginal warfare and succeeded in keeping their opponents off balance by raiding English frontier settlements with small, mobile detachments of troupes de la marine, young and active militia volunteers and allied aboriginal warriors. The contribution of the militia to these forces was important but it cannot be stressed enough that they were led by regular Canadien officers of the troupes de la marine.
Far from it being a militia composed of "habitants, from teenagers to greybeards" who "rallied to their elected captains to fend off marauding Indians and incursions from the hated Americans or English," as the author states (p. 3), the successful defence of New France to 1755 was based on an effective military establishment composed of three distinct components: regulars, militia and their aboriginal allies. French North America only survived because of this establishment, whose social and economic significance was so strong that one leading scholar of the colony's history has concluded that New France was imbued with a military ethos. (2)
The adoption of aboriginal tactics by European armies campaigning in North America can, however, be overemphasized. The major operations during the colonial wars waged between France and Britain from the late 17th century to the mid-18th century were conducted along European lines as the 1690 and 1711 attacks on Quebec and the 1745 siege of Louisbourg demonstrate. With the commencement of the Seven Years' War in 1755 and the arrival of significant numbers of British regulars and French troupes de terre (units of the French army as opposed to the Ministry of Marine), the nature of North American warfare underwent a change. Early French victories in this conflict such as that at the Monongahela were gained by traditional raiding and ambush tactics, but by 1758, as Granatstein points out, warfare in North America had irrevocably changed. (3) The author notes that at the battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, the Canadien militia did not perform particularly well when deployed as regular infantry. This is true, but, with proper training and good leadership, they were able to successfully fight in open battle against British regulars the following spring when, on almost on the same ground, Levis defeated the British garrison of Quebec at the misnamed battle of Ste. Foy, fought 28 April 1760. (4)
The point, however, is not whether the Canadien militia performed better in one battle or another, it is that the militia of New France were regarded neither by its leaders nor its people as being the primary defenders of the colony. The militia was an integral and important part of New France's military establishment but only as an auxiliary to regular forces, European or local. With some modifications, a similar organization prevailed during the British period, and, from 1763 to 1812, the defence establishment of most British colonies in North America consisted of British regular troops, colonial regular units and, finally, the militia. These colonial regular units were raised, with a bewildering variety of titles, from 1764 to the outbreak of war in 1812, usually in periods of international tension with France or the United States. (5) The militia were always regarded as an auxiliary force, a numerous one to be sure, but still an auxiliary.
That brings us to 1812 and Dr. John Strachan, the man Granatstein believes primarily …