Canadian Military History



Military Inspection of the General Staff of Army Canada. 2000. Vasilios Gikas did the diligence



Canadian Military History. Part 1.

The Challenge of Nature.

Canada is immense. It stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, encompassing several different Time Zones. Its climate ranges from temperate in the South to arctic in the North. All of Western Europe could fit easily inside this vast territory. It took centuries of explorations -often conducted by military men- to establish precise maps, from the first sketches of 16th century explorers to the great aerial surveys produced by the Royal Canadian Air Force. The environment has remained practically unchanged for some 3,500 years. From the Atlantic to the western extremities of the Great Lakes, vast forests cover the southern part of the Country. Then hundreds of kilometers of prairie stretch ahead, ending only at the Rocky Mountains.



The Pacific slope of these mountains is more temperate, with dense forests running along the west coast as far as Alaska. North of the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and the Prairies, the vegetation slowly becomes boreal, shifting into tundra as one nears the Arctic Ocean. The inhabitable area is limited, at least insofar as agriculture is concerned, to the southernmost parts of the Country. Settlement was concentrated there because the subarctic taiga and tundra could not support larger populations. In the Middle Ages, Canada’s climate was more temperate. It remained so until the 14th century, when the little ice age began, reaching its apogee between the end of the 17th century and the middle of the 19th.



This colder period affected not only Canada, but the earth’s entire Northern Hemisphere. Agriculture was disturbed and the population, including military people, had to change their ways of eating and dressing and their modes of travel in order to cope with the new conditions, particularly the snow, which posed a major problem to transportation. In the St. Lawrence Valley, where annual temperatures vary enormously, from as cold as -40° C in Winter to as hot as +35° C in Summer, the European settlers borrowed numerous techniques from the Amerindians for survival in such extreme conditions.



This environment influenced their battle methods as well. Another feature of the vast Canadian territory is the multitude of rivers flowing through it. Until the mid-19th century, waterways provided the only major communication routes and controlling them was of prime strategic importance to the Europeans from their first arrival. As long as no land routes existed, the only way for explorers to penetrate the great Canadian interior was along waterways.



In their attempts to reach the heartland of the continent, they soon adopted the Amerindian canoe, a light and manoeuvrable craft made of birchbark. For many years to come, waterways remained the only practical method of transporting tons of material and hundreds of people over long distances. The first road between Montreal and Quebec City -the Chemin du Roy- was built in the 1730s and used mainly for light transportation. Merchandise and troops continued to travel by water, until railways became sufficiently developed to take over in the second half of the 19th century.


The immense distances and sense of space, the rigorous climate and close proximity of untamed nature were all new to the first Europeans arriving in Canada. Today still, Europeans who arrive here are greatly impressed by these vast, virtually uninhabited spaces and the ubiquity of the natural world -its fauna only a gunshot away, so to speak- just as their ancestors were several centuries ago. Nevertheless, the most striking of the experiences awaiting European man in America was not untamed nature, however impressive that might be, but American man.



A Continent already Inhabited

When the Europeans discovered America, they were not stepping onto a continent devoid of all human habitation, but rather a continent where descendants of nomads from Asia had been living for some 12,000 years. The northern part of North America -the vast plains of the West, the mostly wooded Regions of the centre and east, the rocky coast of Labrador from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Arctic -or in other words the entire area that would one day become Canada- was inhabited by various peoples constituting almost as many linguistic and cultural groups. The Inuit had arrived in the Arctic as early as the year 1000 A.D.


The part of Quebec north of the St. Lawrence River, central and northern Ontario and large areas of what is now Manitoba and Saskatchewan were occupied by the Algonquin group (Crees, Ojibwas, Algonquins and Montagnais). The Beothuks inhabited the island of Newfoundland, while the Gaspé Peninsula, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were the domain of the Micmacs, Malecites and Abenakis. The realm of the Plains Amerindians began west of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba, where Ojibwas and Plains Cree eventually gave way to Assiniboines, Gros-Ventres, Blackfoot and Sarcees stretching all the way to the Rocky Mountains.



Settled First Nations

All the latter peoples were essentially nomads, living by hunting and fishing. On the other hand, the Iroquoian group (Hurons, Iroquois, Neutrals and Tobaccos or Petuns) living in the St. Lawrence Valley, southern Quebec and Ontario and the western part of New York State, were already sedentary, depending largely on agriculture and living in villages. Among the peoples of the Northeast, the Iroquoians were apparently the most militarized. They were also the only group to have formed associations: the Huron Confederacy, formed around 1440 and the Five Nations Iroquois Confederacy, going back to about 1560. The latter played a prominent role in the History of the French Colony in Canada and included the Mohawks, Cayugas, Onondagas, Oneidas and Senecas.


The Iroquois and Hurons lived in fortified villages, surrounded by palisades. These were elaborate defensive works. For instance, the fortification at Hochelaga, on the site where Montreal now stands, was round and enclosed by 3 rows of wood, pyramidal in shape, crossed at the top and about nine metres high. The top of the palisade was covered with kinds of galleries and ladders to reach them, containing rocks and stones.There was only one gate, which closed with a bar. Huron villages were also usually well fortified with 4 strong palisades of large pieces of wood, all interlaced and 30 feet in height, with galleries like parapets.


These types of fortifications were common in Huron and Iroquois villages. Archeological excavations have confirmed that a row of stakes sometimes ran around the outside of the main palisade and that the inside of the enclosure was always round or oval. In general, these buildings bore some resemblance to the wooden forts built in northwestern Europe during the Dark Ages. Villages of lesser importance and isolated posts were also fortified, though more modestly. One small wooden fort built by the Iroquois was made of large trees, arranged one over the other in a circle, so that the surrounding palisade was relatively low.



The description of a Huron attack on this little stronghold reveals a few of the methods that Amerindians used to lay seige to enemy camps. The Hurons approached the palisade they wanted to breach, hiding behind large, movable wooden walls. Then they knocked down the largest trees near the palisade so that the trees fell on it. Still shielded by their movable walls, they then attempted to attach ropes to the support pillars and pull them down.


The Iroquoians were not the only native people to erect such imposing fortifications in North America. In the Mississippi Valley, the site of many different pre-Columbian civilizations, numerous forts were constructed by various peoples who had disappeared by the time the white men arrived. Around 1,200 A.D., the great City of Cahokia (near the present city of Collinsville, Illinois) was enclosed by a palisade four or five metres in height, punctuated with numerous guard towers and surrounded by a moat. These fortifications provided protection for a population of about 20,000 people. Recent archeological excavations at the Kitwanga fort on the upper Skeena River in British Columbia have confirmed that the 16 Amerindian Nations on the Pacific coast also constructed elaborate fortifications. The building of fortifications was not confined to sedentary peoples. For example, the nomadic Amerindians of the northern Great Plains occasionally erected wooden huts surrounded by small palisades as a kind of temporary fortification.



Canadian Military History. Part 2.

War in Aboriginal Society.

War played a pivotal role in the lives of all pre-Columbian North American peoples. The best way for young men to win the respect and admiration of other warriors and attract the attention of women was to distinguish themselves in battle. However, the dogmatic believe or die of the European wars of religion was unknown among the aboriginal societies in Canada.

The same held true for participation in war parties. Warriors were not subject to rigid discipline. They decided on their own whether they wanted to wage war and could stop at any time if they so desired. The reason was that, for Amerindians, the essence of life rested largely in individual liberty, freedom of belief and the freedom of all beings. The main cause for war was revenge for wrongs committed by other tribes. Iroquoian conflicts traditionally arose when the families of dead warriors demanded satisfaction. The conflicts could well smoulder quietly for a certain amount of time before erupting in a series of raids, attacks and counterattacks, all seeking revenge, with the last attack always justified by the previous one. In this way, a climate of virtually incessant hostility and violence was perpetuated between the various nations.


Decisions to raise war parties could also be prompted by the dreams of chiefs or war priests, falsely called sorcerers by the white men. In Amerindian Societies, most males became warriors. At a very young age, boys began practising with bows and arrows, spears and slings. They practised hand-to-hand combat and learned to move furtively, to camouflage themselves and terrify the enemy with whoops and cries. In case of hostilities, bands of a greater or lesser size were formed, then divided into squads of five or six men. The warriors who were generally recognized as the bravest were selected as war chieftains, constituting a sort of general staff. They met to discuss and draw up plans for the campaign. Before the battle, they devised a basic strategy, establishing the positions of warriors in the field and the tactics to follow.



War Parties.

All war parties were meticulously planned. First, all men between 15 and 35 years of age were gathered to form the war party. Preference was given to experienced warriors who wanted to participate. However, it was also necessary to deal with young warriors, eager to win distinction, who appeared even though not invited. They too were accepted, though on condition that they bow to the authority of the chief. As the party approached enemy territory, it was sometimes difficult to contain these adolescents whose impetuousness might compromise a surprise attack. Provisions were gathered to sustain the warriors for the entire period of time that the expedition lasted. Part of it was hidden along the way for the return trip.


Food was brought along, as well as glue to repair canoes and weapons, spare moccasins, dry paint, weapons, shields and wooden armour. When they arrived near enemy territory, the warriors abandoned their canoes and continued on foot through the woods. They always walked one behind the other, in Indian file, the chieftain leading the way followed by experienced warriors and then youths. Between dawn and dusk, they could cover up to 40 km in this fashion, depending on the difficulties encountered.


When they approached the enemy, they prepared for battle, smearing their bodies with paint to make themselves look frightening, putting on their armour and taking up their weapons. They then prayed to the Spirits, so that they would look kindly on their endeavours and set off toward the enemy, taking care not to leave any traces or make the slightest noise. Even when attacking in bands, Amerindians preferred individual combat. During battle, it was impossible for the chieftains to issue commands and maintain strict control over the combatants. As a result, very few instructions were given. When two fairly large groups of natives joined battle, they launched projectiles first and then fought hand-to-hand on relatively open ground.


The first battles between Amerindians and Europeans were also waged in this fashion. However, battles could also take an entirely different form, such as surprise attacks by marauding squads on individual enemy warriors or even on defenceless people. From their first military confrontations with Europeans, the Amerindians realized the futility of fighting in tight formation against troops that were better armed and accustomed to discipline from European battlefields. Their knowledge of warfare told them that their main advantage lay in greater mobility. They therefore concentrated on surprise attacks and harassment tactics. The eighteenth century French called this la petite guerre or small warfare, a term which betrays their condescension even though this method of combat, which we now call guerilla warfare, has proved able to thwart the best-equipped armies in the world.



Amerindian Weapons and Armour.

The offensive arsenal of native warriors consisted essentially of a bow and arrows and a bludgeon. The latter was either a club carved from a single piece of wood, with a slightly curved head ending in a ball; or else a tomahawk, consisting of a wooden handle with a stone solidly attached to the end. Slings were used as well, and less often, spears. Amerindian warriors also possessed defensive equipment, a suit of armour that protected the fronts and backs of their bodies as well as their legs. It was made of thin white sticks, squeezed one against the other and very tightly woven and interlaced with small cords. Since mobility was a major advantage in war, this equipment had to be light, like the birchbark canoes. The use of armour was very common among Amerindians everywhere in America.


It was complemented by more or less imposing shields, sometimes called rondaches because they looked like the small, round shields of this name used in Europe in the sixteenth century. All these weapons were especially useful for battles on open terrain, though they were probably employed for ambushes as well. Amerindian armour was able to withstand stone arrowheads, but not [the French arrowheads made of] iron and certainly not bullets. Increasing use of European firearms caused it to disappear. Shields, however, remained in use throughout the seventeenth century among several Amerindian nations, particularly the Hurons, Iroquois, Montagnais and Algonquins. Sometimes coats of arms were painted on the armour and shields. Among the Hurons, these coats of arms indicated the village from which the owner came. For example, a canoe was painted on equipment from the village of Quieunonascaran.




Although, among some Amerindian peoples, simply touching one’s enemies without killing them was sufficient to prove a combatant’s courage, one of the main objectives of war was to capture warriors from other camps and bring them back alive. The captives knew what awaited them and stoically bore their torments, sometimes for several days. Torture was considered by most Amerindian societies to be a ritual act of retribution, and as such, was utterly beyond the comprehension of 17th-century Englishmen and Frenchmen. The torture of their captives by Amerindians has been the subject of countless tales for 500 years, tales that are usually unbearable to read due to their outstanding cruelty.


Did not the Iroquois and Sioux go so far as to crucify captive children? Once again, distinctions have to be made. Even among the Iroquois, where ritual torture was most widespread, many prisoners did not finish their days at the stake but were simply adopted by the families of their enemies and thereafter enjoyed the same privileges as other members of the family. The Abenakis, for their part, preferred to make slaves of their prisoners rather than roasting them to death over low fires.



Cannibalism and Scalping.

Another Amerindian practice that was anathema to Europeans was cannibalism. Sometimes Amerindians ate the hearts or other body parts of enemies whom they considered to have been especially courageous in the face of suffering and death, instead of simply throwing them out, in order to appropriate this courage and because they thought these enemies were worthy of being perpetuated in this way. If this macabre custom appears to have made some sense in certain cases, sheer madness seems to have taken over on other occasions. One unfortunate prisoner was unceremoniously disembowelled so that the Amerindians could drink his blood and eat his heart while it was still warm. The custom of scalping or cutting the scalp and hair off enemies, is apparently very old.


As early as 1535, an explorer in Hochelaga remarked on seeing skin from the heads of five men. This practice was very widespread among both the forest and Plains Amerindians. Scalps were apparently considered to be war trophies. When wounded enemies were scalped, they had little chance of survival.


The Amerindians preferred to sever the entire heads of vanquished warriors, but cut off only the scalps if they had too much to carry. Such was supposedly the origin of this horrifying custom. Horrifying at least in the eyes of the Europeans, who loudly condemned this practice. However, a double standard was evidently at work during the colonial wars. Beginning late in the 17th century, the authorities in New England offered large rewards for the scalps of their enemies. The French, finding rewards thus placed on their own heads, responded in kind, although their bounties were only one-tenth of the value of those offered by the British. Usually, they preferred to spend their money buying back from the Amerindians white people who had been captured. In the end, white combatants on both sides took up scalping. So, despite their official protests, the colonial authorities perpetuated this practice, all the while reviling the Amerindians for it.



Canadian Military History. Part 3.

Clothing and Adornment.

At the time of the first contact with Europeans, the clothing of most Amerindians in the eastern forests was relatively simple. In summer, they went naked to the waist, wearing a sort of loincloth that passed between their legs, attached at the waist by a belt. They were shod in moccasins of soft leather, and sometimes wore long leggings fastened at the waist. In winter, they wore fur garments with long sleeves. All their clothing was cut from animal skins which women tanned, finished and sewed.


Mainly when they went to war, Hurons wore headdresses made of moose hair, painted red and glued to a leather band about three fingers wide. In the same circumstances, the Iroquois wore a kind of helmet consisting of a thin wooden headband with a hoop passing over the middle of the head with small sockets attached to hold feathers, whose length distinguished chiefs from simple warriors. Other Amerindians tore out all the hair on their heads, with the exception of a little tuft, which they let grow and adorned with coloured feathers. In order to make themselves look frightening, Hurons and Iroquois applied various colours to their faces. In some cases they also had multicoloured tattoos on their bodies, often for religious and traditional reasons but also in order to terrify people who were not accustomed to them.



The Encounter with the Vikings.

According to the first European explorers, all the various peoples scattered across America had warlike traditions. The oldest known accounts, the Icelandic sagas, recount the mostly conflictual encounters between the Vikings and the natives around the year 1000 A.D. Long believed to be simply legends, the tales that make up the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red were confirmed a few decades ago by important archeological discoveries, especially that of a Viking settlement in l’Anse aux Meadows at the tip of Newfoundland’s northern peninsula. It would seem indeed that this was the Vinland of the sagas.


To what group did the indigenous warriors who were audacious enough to attack Viking Colonies belong? Some indications would lead one to believe that they were Inuit and others, that they were Amerindians. The Scandinavians called them Skraelings, a word which encompassed all indigenous peoples without distinction. The Saga of Eric the Red described the natives as short in stature, dressed in skins, with dark complexions and stiff hair, large eyes and prominent cheekbones. Were these natives inhabiting Vinland (today’s Newfoundland and part of eastern Quebec) around the year 1000 the ancestors of the Beothuks and Algonquins of the historical period? According to the Saga of the Greenlanders, a Viking attack on nine natives, whom they had found lying under their three boats made of skins, marked the first exchange between the two peoples. Only one of the Skraelings escaped the massacre and managed to flee.


In general, the Vikings took no prisoners unless they had some purpose in mind. One of their most formidable practices was the strandhogg or a kind of raid that they conducted on coastal villages in order to seize livestock and food. They also carried off young girls and strong children to sell them as slaves. Other inhabitants who did not succeed in fleeing were often massacred on the spot. It was possibly a strandhogg to which the nine Skraelings fell victim. Shortly thereafter, other indigenous people came in large numbers of boats made of skin to attack the Viking ship. They were armed with bows which they used skillfully, killing Thorvald, the Viking leader, with an arrow. Despite this confrontation, the Vikings remained another two years in Vinland before returning to Greenland.



Attempts at Colonizing Vinland

Some years passed and another Viking colony, composed of sixty men and five women with some livestock, was established in Vinland under a leader named Karlsefni. Shortly after their arrival, Skraelings emerged from the forest. They wanted to exchange furs for weapons, but Karlsefni strictly forbade the Vikings to do this. The furs were therefore exchanged for red cloth, which the natives wrapped around their heads as a kind of headdress. These friendly relations turned sour when a native was killed for trying to steal weapons. A battle ensued and according to the Saga of Eric the Red, the Skraelings came armed this time with slings as well as bows and arrows.


Projectiles rained down like hail on the Vikings. The natives also used a curious spherical object, blue-black in colour, which they threw into the enemy camp with the help of a thin pole. As it fell from the sky, the object spun, making a hideous noise. Struck with terror, the Vikings believed themselves surrounded and thought only of fleeing for their lives. Seeing the Viking rout, Karlsefni’s wife, Freydis, seized the sword of one of the men who had been killed by a flat stone to the head and turned to face the natives. Her courage rallied the Viking forces, who succeeded in turning the tide. Nevertheless, the colonists decided that their situation was untenable as a result of this battle and, shortly thereafter, abandoned the village.



The Skraelings’ Way of War

Although very brief, these tales from the sagas corroborate several pieces of information about the military arts of the Skraelings. They were apparently quite well organized militarily because they could mobilize large numbers of warriors in a short time. They were courageous, for they were prepared to attack an unknown people on ships or inside a settlement. It seems likely that courage in battle was one of the main values in their culture. They were very mobile, due in large part to the lightness of their boats. They were also capable of rapid retreat, which was not necessarily the defeat and rout that the Vikings thought it.


As the Europeans were to learn over centuries of battles with the natives, lightning attacks followed by quick withdrawals were typical of the Amerindian method of waging war. Finally, they handled their weapons extremely well and even displayed a knowledge of the psychology of combat because they invented and utilized objects intended to terrify the enemy, like the blue-black balls thrown at the Vikings with the expected results. Furthermore, the Vikings do not seem to have discovered the location of the Skraeling bases or villages, while the natives were able to locate the European settlements quite quickly. This reveals the existence of an effective surveillance system.



Canadian Military History. Part 4.

Viking expansion Westward

The Skraelings may well have been the first natives in North America to encounter white men, nearly a thousand years ago. The invaders belonged to one of the most aggressive and warlike peoples of the Dark Ages in Europe. Intrepid seafarers, the Vikings landed on the North American continent after many long journeys. Seeking adventure on the high seas, they had set out westward, toward the unknown, reaching Iceland around 860. They began to colonize that island at the end of the ninth century, and it was from there that Eric the Red set sail in 982 to discover Greenland, where 2 Colonies were established.

A few years later, a ship commanded by Bjarni sighted a new land to the West: the Canada of today. Bjarni was soon followed by Lief Erickson, who sailed along the coasts of Helluland, Markland and Vinland, which may have been respectively Baffin Island, the coast of Labrador, and Newfoundland. The discovery of Viking ruins at l’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, have confirmed that attempts to establish small colonies did indeed occur.



Viking Weaponry

The weapons of Viking warriors were more or less elaborate, depending on an individual’s wealth. However, all warriors were well equipped with offensive weapons. First were battle-axes, which they wielded with formidable effect. At the outset, they were the only people to use these weapons, although their adversaries soon adopted them. Swords were also highly prized and spears were widely used. Finally, every warrior carried a knife in his belt. Bows and arrows were also used.

The sagas report that Viking colonists in Vinland carried swords, axes and spears. They do not mention any archers in their ranks. The main pieces of defensive equipment were shields. Every warrior had one. Round and made of wood, they were sometimes covered with leather, painted red and ringed with metal. At the centre was the umbo, a sort of iron boss to protect the hand. Most warriors probably had helmets as well. Usually very simple and conical in shape, they often had a piece covering the nose. Horns, which can generally be found in modern depictions of the helmets of these terrible northern warriors, are a figment of popular imagination. Viking helmets were never adorned with horns. All the experts agree on this.


The only contemporary illustrations showing this detail are related to the god Odin. It is possible that some Viking priests of the pagan era wore them for ceremonies. It should be added that such a decoration would be not only cumbersome but dangerous in hand-to-hand combat. Coats of mail were seldom worn, because of their high cost. Probably only leaders and the wealthiest individuals could afford them, unless they had been seized from enemy soldiers. However, coats of mail evidently made their way as far as America, as witnessed by 2 fragments dating respectively from the eleventh and twelfth centuries that were discovered during recent archeological excavations in northwestern Greenland and eastern Ellesmere Island. Coats of mail and helmets were made of iron. Viking clothing consisted of a tunic, woollen trousers, shoes of soft leather, a belt on which was slung a sheathed sword, and perhaps some headgear. When the weather was cold, a woollen cape was added, attached at the right shoulder by a large metal pin.



The Withdrawal of the Vikings

Were the Vikings forced to abandon America by the conflictual nature of their first contacts with indigenous populations? The natives were certainly numerous and the intruders, despite their iron weapons, had little hope of defeating them. As the Saga of Eric the Red says, the Vikings in Vinland realized that even though this was good land, their lives here would always be dominated by battle and fear. They decided therefore to return home and thus the first armed European incursion into Canada was repulsed. After the failure of the Viking attempts at colonization, another 500 years would pass before another wave of explorers arrived from the Old World.



Voyages of Discovery

Shortly before the end of the fifteenth century, the lure of unknown lands to the west was again felt in Europe and America was rediscovered. Europeans sought once again to establish Colonies throughout the sixteenth century: the Spanish and Portuguese primarily in South America and the English and French principally in North America. Of all these Nations, only the Spanish succeeded in making large encroachments. Numerous expeditions set out for Canada during this period, from the one by John Cabot in 1497 to that of Jacques Cartier, but no permanent colony was established. Canada therefore remained the exclusive domain of the natives until the 17th century.


Nevertheless, the land claims made by Cartier in the St. Lawrence Valley were recognized in Europe, where the territories that he discovered were identified on maps as New France. It would have been unthinkable for these intrepid explorers to set out in search of unknown lands, inhabited possibly by natives of unknown disposition, but presumably hostile, without ensuring a minimum of security through effective weapons and men who knew how to handle and maintain them. Therefore, the sailors from all the European nations who signed on for these expeditions had to be able to become men-at-arms when danger threatened. All ships were equipped with a supply of swords, spears and harquebuses, as well as a few artillery pieces. The distinction between naval vessels and merchant vessels was rather vague.


In general, ordinary ships engaging in trade one year could be equipped for war the next and sent off on military campaigns, then reassigned once again to transporting merchandise. A few notable exceptions did exist, such as the Great Harry, a large British man-of-war. Thanks to the development of ships able to withstand long ocean voyages, 16th-century Europeans enjoyed a revolutionary advantage over all other peoples of the times. Not only did America come within their reach, but they also succeeded in circumnavigating Africa. The Portuguese, who were dominant in this kind of exploration at the time, reached India in 1500 and then the Far East.



From Footmen to Soldiers

Great advances were also made in the 14th and 15th centuries in the areas of weapons and tactics. The result was the advent of a new type of men-at-arms: Professional Soldiers. In the Middle Ages, knights were the prototypical warriors on the battlefields of Europe. Because of their extremely heavy equipment, they moved about on horseback. Dressed first in coats of mail and helmets, they were eventually enveloped from head to foot in suits of steel armour. Those who fought on foot or footmen as they were generally known, were usually archers and pikemen. They were poorly equipped and were even forbidden to carry the weapons of gentlemen, such as swords, which might have saved their lives in combat. They had little defensive equipment, even though they were very exposed in battle.


The situation changed when armies of knights began to suffer stinging defeats at the hands of simple footmen. This occurred in the fourteenth century during a number of battles pitting knights against bands of rough Swiss mountaineers armed only with longbows, crossbows, long pikes and halberds, which are pikes with axe-heads such as those still carried today by the Pope’s Swiss Guards. Assembled in close formation, the pikemen and halberdiers formed a kind of gigantic porcupine which the knights and their mounts proved unable to penetrate.


The nobles suffered terrible losses, while the Swiss acquired a military fame that accompanied them for centuries, due to this new technique that revolutionized the art of war. The 14th century also saw the advent of firearms on battlefields, in the form of heavy bombards, the ancestor of cannons, which were especially useful for sieges. It was not until a century later that harquebuses, the first portable firearms, made their appearance.


They were capable of penetrating armour. In the Middle Ages, Knights and Noble Lords regularly maintained in their retinues sergeants and archers, who trained and led other subjects who were obliged to serve in the army for forty days per campaign. As the infantry became the heart of the army, the importance of footmen increased, as did their relative numbers and the length of time they had to serve. Rarely paid, these men often survived by looting and extorting money and goods from humble people living near the battlefields. When the military campaign ended, some of them became veritable public dangers. They were even called looters and eaters of the people. In order to mitigate these abuses, princes gradually began to pay men to devote themselves to the practice of war. The French word solder meaning to pay was thus the origin of the lovely name of soldier by which they came to be known. In the 15th century, the practice of paying men to take up the trade of soldiery became widespread.



The enlistment of Soldiers

In the 16th century, the basic tactical unit was the company. It consisted of a variable number of soldiers, usually around 50 though sometimes many more. They were commanded by officers: a captain, assisted by one or more lieutenants and an ensign to carry the flag. While senior officers generally came from the lower nobility, petty officers were drawn from the ranks of the more experienced or better-educated soldiers. These were the anspessades (roughly the equivalent of modern lance-corporals or first-class soldiers), the corporals, sergeants and quarter-master sergeants. There was at least one drummer and often a fife player per company, as well as a frater, whose duty it was to provide first aid to the wounded. Companies could be composed exclusively of pikemen, crossbowmen or harquebusiers or of a mixture of these specialties.



Apart from the names of certain ranks and from changes due to evolving weapons, the companies constituted five hundred years ago were similar in many ways to those of today. Several companies together formed armed bands, types of battalions with variable numbers of soldiers established permanently in France by King Louis XI in 1480. In 1534, legions were established, but with little success and bands returned during the 1540s, before the current regimental structure was finally adopted. During the Renaissance, it was incumbent upon captains to recruit the men they needed to fill the ranks, although they could delegate this task to representatives -lieutenants or recruiting sergeants- who made the first approaches. When agreement was reached, the recruits found themselves bound to a captain by contract (which was sometimes oral) and they received a bonus paid to them at the time of their enlistment.


New recruits had to swear to abide by the Articles of War, which set forth their duties and obligations, especially loyalty to the flag and warned of the consequences that awaited in case of mutiny or desertion, usually capital punishment. When soldiers received their pay, the captain would have already made certain deductions to cover the costs of their gear and weapons, if they did not have any. Officers usually made a profit on this transaction. Similar deductions were made for food and clothing. If, however, recruits arrived armed, equipped and dressed, various clauses in the contract would change to their advantage. Soldiers being sent overseas were apparently usually granted certain privileges to cover the cost of their gear, which amounted to a form of compensation.




Canadian Military History. Part 5.

Soldiers of the Canadian Expeditions

Until the mid-17th century, expeditions to Canada were not protected by detachments of royal troops but by men recruited by the trading and exploration companies financing the operation. In order to recruit soldiers, these companies, whether British or French, had to obtain the permission of the sovereign, a condition that also applied to the right to have cannons made to wage war. The companies assumed the full costs of the expeditions, including those for recruiting, equipping and maintaining troops, in exchange for an exclusive monopoly, for example to the fur trade. The leader of an expedition also received a royal commission as a lieutenant-general (or governor), which gave him the authority to act in the name of the king in the affairs of the colony. Expeditionary leaders were often important shareholders in the enterprise.


Who then were the soldiers who protected the expeditions to Canada? Many, if not most, were likely veterans of royal armies who had already taken part in several campaigns. The composition of the first military corps sent to North America was probably similar to that of the corps sent by the Spanish to the south. There were soldiers among them who had served in several parts of the world, in Constantinople, throughout Italy, and in Rome, wrote one of them. In times of peace, especially, these demobilized soldiers roamed the various kingdoms of Europe looking for a chance to enlist and overseas adventure was certainly not to be disdained. Soldiers were not the only men-at-arms attracted by these expeditions to America. Gentlemen joined in the explorations as well in the hope of finding gold or procuring land.


Cartier took some along on his ships in 1535 and in 1541-43. In some cases, there were quite a few of them. For example, on Martin Frobisher’s second expedition in 1577, there were eleven other gentlemen in addition to the regular officers. They were usually seen as extra hands on the trip, whose swords and knowledge might prove useful. 16th-century documents are usually rather vague about the presence and number of soldiers on expeditions. In 1504, a French galleon sailed for Brazil.


It was one of the first times that France sent men overseas. While documents about this voyage do not mention the occupation of all sixty people on board, they do report that they were well armed, with some 40 harquebuses and other firearms, without counting pikes, halberds or daggers. One entry, according to which Jacques l’Homme, called La Fortune, soldier and a sailor [the sailor’s name was Colas Mancel. Henry Jesanne, a young page, was killed by the nasty Indians.


The French had gone ashore unarmed in search of drinking water and were treacherously attacked. This incident illustrates the extent to which explorers were exposed to danger. In addition, the ship ran aground on the way home after being attacked by pirates. Only 27 crew members, including Captain Gonneville, survived] were abducted by the Amerindians, shows that there were men-at-arms on board.



An increasing Military Presence

On his first voyage in 1534, Jacques Cartier apparently did not take along any professional soldiers or gentlemen other than his officers. However, there was at least one gunner on the crew of his two ships, because they fired cannons. An account of his second voyage in 1535 mentions that all the gentlemen of the expedition were on board as well as soldiers. They were so well armed that Chief Donnacona worried when they landed about why the captain and his people carried so many war sticks, when the Amerindians had none.


These war sticks were probably pikes and halberds. The French, in fact, were on their guard. When they went to Hochelaga, it was only with the captain, the gentlemen and 25 well-armed soldiers. Furthermore, when they decided to pass the Winter in Canada for the first time that same year, they feared betrayal on the part of the Amerindians and erected a small fort entirely enclosed with large pieces of wood standing on end and with artillery all around it. They also reinforced it with large moats, wide and deep and a draw bridge gate.


Military preparations, previously limited to the essentials, assumed an important place in Cartier’s third voyage to Canada a few years later in the company of Sieur de Roberval. Their goal this time was not just exploration but colonization. A plan written by Cartier at the time mentioned that he needed 40 harquebusier men-at-arms. However, a Spanish spy posted in St. Malo in April 1541 observed that the preparations seemed to be for a much larger expedition. He reported that Sieur de Roberval commanded 300 men-at-arms, that Captain Jacques Cartier led 400 sailors and 20 master pilots and that 160 gentlemen would be on board, not to mention all the artisans, workmen and other skilled people needed to establish the future colony, in all some 800 to 900 people.


The soldiers were armed, according to the spy, with harquebuses and crossbows and also carried rondaches or small round shields. The ships allegedly carried 400 harquebuses, 200 crossbows, 200 rondaches and more than 1000 pikes and halberds. There were also several pieces of artillery. In short, there was enough to arm not only the soldiers and gentlemen, but also the sailors and future colonists.



The first uniform worn in Canada

Insofar as clothing was concerned, the same Spanish spy reported that for the expedition of 1541 Cartier gave everyone a black and white livery. Whether in the colours of the King, a province, a noble family, a religious group or a gentleman, livery was of heraldic origin. It was a kind of uniform before they existed, identifying the servants and all the people belonging to a household.


It was not uncommon at this time for the soldiers and sailors bound to a particular captain by ties that were still influenced by feudalism to wear livery as well. In 1462, Louis XI authorized the sailors from the Gironde (Bordeaux) to wear clothing of red and white like our emblem. In 1533, François I ordered his foot soldiers to wear the colours of their captains’ livery on their sleeves. Since the Middle Ages, black and white had been the colours of Brittany and it is thus not surprising that these colours were worn by the sailors of a captain from St. Malo, as well as by the accompanying men-at-arms.


The livery of Cartier’s soldiers and sailors was therefore, in all likelihood, the first uniform worn in Canada. Weapons, liveries, contingents of troops, all this information indicates the extent of the preparations for this expedition and the importance attached to the military aspect. How would the weapons be distributed? Probably the harquebuses and crossbows, as more expensive and specialized arms, would be given primarily to the soldiers. On a voyage like this, pikes and halberds were most useful to the sailors and the future colonists, in short, to all the men able to bear arms on the ship in case of attack by enemy galleons or even by pirates. These weapons could be used on land as well for defending forts, but were of little use against Amerindians. As for the rondaches, they were for the soldiers armed with swords, who formed the bulk of the infantry at the time. Since soldiers generally owned their own weapons and defensive equipment, in addition to those furnished by the expedition, the men accompanying Cartier on his third voyage were certainly armed to the teeth.




Difficult Relations

The ships finally set sail in May 1541, with Cartier leading the way. On the 5 ships there was probably one company of soldiers. Upon arrival at what is now Quebec City (which he called Charlesbourg-Royal), Cartier built two forts, one at the foot of Cap Rouge and the other, certainly smaller, on top of it, because that location commanded the entire region. Work proceeded apace. While some of the party began to cultivate the land, others set off to explore. They soon discovered what they believed to be gold, silver and diamonds, a French Eldorado.


But, relations with the Iroquois deteriorated. Though they were cordial when they first met, their exchanges became openly hostile during the winter of 1541-42. The Amerindians even boasted to some Spanish fishermen of having killed some 35 Frenchmen. The situation grew perilous enough for Cartier to abandon Charlesbourg-Royal. He returned to France in June 1542 with what remained of his party and with his treasures. Roberval, in turn, departed for Canada in 1542 with three ships carrying 200 people, including a few Gentlemen.


However, upon arriving in Newfoundland at the site where the city of St. John’s now stands, he met Cartier sailing away to France. Roberval pointed out that the French now had sufficient forces to confront the Amerindians and ordered Cartier to return, but in vain. The thirst for gold and glory won out over duty, and Cartier slipped away by night, headed for St. Malo. However, he was bitterly disappointed upon his arrival: his treasure was nothing but worthless rock. Furthermore, the king of France would never again confer the command of an expedition upon him, no doubt because he had disobeyed Roberval. Despite Cartier’s departure, Roberval sailed on to Quebec. The fortifications erected the previous year seem to have been destroyed, because everything had to be rebuilt. Soon a fort that was very strong, located on a mountain and incorporating a large tower and a main building arose on the summit of Cap Rouge.


Another fort was built at the foot, of which part formed a two-storey tower, with two good main buildings. The new settlement was baptized France-Roy. The Amerindians did not seem very hostile to the newcomers, but kept their distance. During the winter of 1542-43 scurvy struck, mowing down one-quarter of the French colonists. With his colony decimated and no gold found, Roberval gave up and by the beginning of September 1543 the survivors were back in France.




Canadian Military History. Part 6.

Other fruitless expeditions

After the expeditions of Cartier and Roberval in 1541-43, the British and French made various other attempts throughout the rest of the 16th century to find the Northwest Passage or another Eldorado, but they all ended in failure. The most important expeditions were those of the Englishman Martin Frobisher between 1576 and 1578. Like Cartier, Frobisher was searching, though much farther north, for gold and the famous passage to Asia. One hundred men, including 30 soldiers and 11 gentlemen, took part in his second expedition in 1577. During this voyage, the relations between the Inuit and the English quickly deteriorated.


The latter attempted to take some natives hostage; a battle ensued, in which the European soldiers used their harquebuses and their bows. A few men, including Frobisher himself, were wounded by Inuit arrows. The place where this battle occurred, the first in the North, was named Bloody Point. From a military point of view, the wounds suffered by the British in this battle indicate that they were not wearing any armour or protective clothing or that their protection was insufficient. British soldiers at the time employed much the same weapons as the French, with the exception of the longbow which the British alone had. British soldiers also often wore livery, although the soldiers and sailors of the Frobisher expeditions may not have had any.


Believing that he had discovered gold on Kodlunarn Island, Frobisher returned the next year leading a fleet of 15 ships with some 400 men. At the time, it was the largest expedition ever mounted in the Arctic. There were probably around 200 sailors and 100 soldiers on board, since, out of the 100 men who were supposed to pass the winter on Baffin Island that year, 40 were sailors and 30 were soldiers. The rest of the men were regular officers, gentlemen and miners, for during the Summer months more than 1,300 tonnes of gold were dug up.


Having accumulated such a treasure, Frobisher, like Cartier before him, decided to return immediately rather than passing the winter there. When analyzed upon the fleet’s return to England, however, his treasure turned out to be nothing more than gneiss. Other expeditions followed Frobisher’s, although they were much more modest in scale and apparently unarmed, like those undertaken between 1585 and 1587 by John Davis, the discoverer of the strait that today bears his name. Davis and his sailors also encountered the Inuit and were unable to penetrate any farther than Frobisher. A few years earlier, in 1583, Sir John Gilbert had barely had time to take official possession of Newfoundland once again, in the name of the British sovereign, before disappearing in a storm.



Basque whaling Fleets on the Labrador Coast

Recent discoveries have confirmed that the Labrador coast also had its hour of glory during the second half of the 16th century, when it was frequented year after year by whalers from the Spanish Basque Country. These intrepid sailors alone possessed the techniques and audacity needed to hunt the giant cetaceans. The whale oil that they obtained, used primarily for lighting, was worth a considerable amount of money. Every spring, about 2,000 Spanish Basque sailors arrived on board some 20 galleons and settled down for the season on the Labrador coast, notably at a place named Butus facing the Strait of Belle Isle, which was then part of the Provincia de Terranova.


Today it is known as Red Bay. In view of the fact that the entire Spanish fleet in the West Indies bringing back the gold and silver of the conquered peoples numbered 70 to 80 ships, the presence off Labrador of some 20 galleons may seem surprising. However, it provides a good indication of the importance of “Terranova.” To some extent at least, whale oil was the gold of the northern seas. The Basque settlements in Labrador were not intended to be permanent. They were temporary, designed just to last for the season. Sometimes, however, the whalers were forced to spend the winter. Galleons were sometimes wrecked there, as was the case of the San Juan, which sank in 1565 and was discovered again during the 1970s in the waters of Red Bay. Detailed underwater archeological studies were carried out as this type of ship has played an important role in world history.




Conflict amongst the Basques

Conflicts sometimes erupted between fishing vessels manned by southern Basques, from the Spanish Basque lands and those manned by northern Basques, who were French. In 1554, the latter seized four ships from their Spanish cousins, off the coast of Newfoundland. The response was not long in coming. The same year, the Sancti Spiritu was transformed from a whaler into a privateer, lying in wait to ambush ships flying the French flag. A Spanish attack destroyed part of the French fishing fleet off Newfoundland. France and Spain were at war at the time and other skirmishes ensued. On April 21, 1557, King Philip II of Spain ordered that all vessels bound for Newfoundland, whether whalers, cod-fishing ships or others, be armed with at least 4 cannons and 8 swivel guns. Some already were, such as the 130-ton Madalena, which had carried 6 cannons and 8 swivel guns since 1550 and the 250ton San Nicolas, which was equipped that same year with 6 cannons and 12 swivel guns.


The Santa Ana, a huge 650-ton ship, carried 10 cannons and 20 swivel guns, while the San Juan, a vessel of about 300 tons which sank in 1565, was armed with 8 cannons and 10 swivel guns. In general, the galleons of the Spanish Basques were quite large, weighing between 200 and 650 tons and carrying crews of 50 to 120 men. Documents of the time do not indicate the presence of soldiers, either on the ships or on land. However, officers and sailors could take up arms if needed, providing a kind of marine infantry.


Every galleon carried iron artillery pieces, which supposes the presence of naval gunners. In order to train these men and ensure that the cannons were well maintained, the command of each ship included a gunnery officer. Nevertheless, a document from 1571 related to a loan agreement for the construction of the 500-ton San Cristobal mentions that the outfitters should place on board [24 Barkham, Michael M., Report on 16th Century Spanish Basque Shipbuilding, c. 1550 to c. 1600 (Ottawa: Canadian Parks Service), Manuscript Report Number 422, p. 34, quoting the 1571 document. Proulx, Jean-Pierre, Les Basques et la pêche à la baleine au Labrador au XVIe siècle (Ottawa: Canadian Parks Service, 1993), also mentions the arms that should be on board.


After 1552 the ships sailing for the West Indies were supposed to carry arms roughly similar in their composition and proportions to those carried by the Basque galleons. For example, a 220- to 320-ton ship was supposed to carry 10 cannons, 24 swivel guns, 30 harquebuses, 30 crossbows, 24 shields, 24 breast-plates, 30 helmets etc. Galleons built by Basque outfitters were often resold to Seville outfitters after 2 or 3 seasons in the North Atlantic.


Then these galleons were repaired and joined the West Indian Fleet, which generally sailed on calmer seas. For more information about the West Indian Fleet, see Haring, Clarence Henry, Trade and Navigation Between Spain and the Indies in the Time of the Hapsburgs (Harvard University Press, 1918); Barkham, Selma, “The Spanish Province of Terranova”, The Canadian Archivist/L Archiviste canadien, II, No. 5, 1974, pp. 73-83. The name “Terranova” appeared during the 1560s in documents of the galleon captains, who were legally considered after God and the King, to be masters of this place as they were of their ships.


The will of the sailor Juan Martinez, the oldest known document in this regard, was dictated in Butus on June 22, 1577 and was legally recognized] this galleon 24 harquebuses, an equal number of crossbows and shields, 26 helmets, 20 breastplates and backs and 144 small and large pikes, all to equip the 100 men on board. In the case of battle, the crew would be divided as follows: about half would use the harquebuses and crossbows, 1/4 to 1/5 would carry pikes and armour and the rest would serve in the artillery or execute manoeuvres. To these armaments were added the personal weapons of the crew members and the officers: swords, daggers and axes.


This was not just an idle precaution. The San Cristobal, like all vessels of the period, ran a high risk of attack at sea. Furthermore, when the men landed they faced Inuit who were hostile because some Basques had carried off the wife of an Inuit chief around 1550. This ill-considered gesture would make the coast of Labrador, already rather forbidding with its bare rock and scraggy conifers, even more inhospitable for generations of Basque sailors.




The Decline

The defeat by the English of the invincible Armada, the pride of the Spanish Navy, apparently played a major part in the decline of the Newfoundland fishery because the Basques lost many of the ships and sailors mobilized by Philip II. The heavy losses suffered by the Spanish Fleet resulted in a sharp increase in the dangers attending sea voyages and in the numbers of pirates, who were mainly English, around the turn of the 17th century. The most celebrated of the pirates was certainly Peter Easton, whose base was in Newfoundland. Captured by the Spanish Basque Fleet, the base was retaken by Easton and his men after an epic battle. At about the same time, the Spanish Basques’ virtual monopoly on whaling was broken by the Dutch and English. With whaling no longer so profitable for the Basques, the Provincia de Terranova was forgotten.




Canadian Military History. Part 7.

The European Failure

France undertook a final attempt at Colonization just before the end of the century, this time on Sable Island off Nova Scotia, in 1598. Named viceroy of New France, the Marquis de la Roche-Mesgouez did not venture to land in person on this windswept sandbank barely rising above the tides. Instead he sent 40 colonists recruited from prisons, escorted by about 10 soldiers, to establish the settlement. By 1603 11 survivors remained to be rescued, the rest having perished in a mutiny. Elsewhere, after a disastrous Winter, the Habitation erected at Tadoussac in 1600 by Pierre Chauvin de Tonnetuit was also abandoned. In Mexico and Peru, where the Conquistadors confronted Amerindian civilizations much more advanced than those to the North, the white soldiers nevertheless carried the day because battles were waged on open ground.



In Canada, however, the Amerindians’ tactic was to be elusive and take advantage of the cover, insurmountable for the time being, provided by the nature of the land and rigours of the climate. Successive waves of European invaders found themselves reduced one after the other to a defensive struggle. How could a military assault be launched on the interior of an unknown country, when the newcomers already feared for their lives inside coastal forts or on ships which they dared not leave? This chronic insecurity accounts for much of the failure to establish European settlements in Canada in the 16th century.


Even the semi-permanent activities of the Spanish Basques were drawing to a close. Since the age of the Vikings, Europeans and natives had often met and clashed, but despite their great technological superiority, the white men had failed to put down any lasting roots in the New World. When Cartier abandoned Charlesbourg-Royal in 1542, he commented that he could not resist with his little band the Savages who prowled around daily and greatly disturbed him. This was a clear admission of the effectiveness of the Amerindians’ guerilla tactics.


In the Arctic, the Inuit also held the white men in check. The English chroniclers never ceased complaining about the valour the savages displayed in combat and their skill in handling their arms. Finally, a new phenomenon that had begun to emerge in the first half of the century established itself more firmly in the second half, as the various European nations, without abandoning their traditional battlefields, carried their enmities abroad to the four corners of the World. A century had passed since John Cabot took possession of Newfoundland, but nothing remained of the French, British or Spanish Basque presence in North America. A page had turned.



A New Prize: Fur

The Amerindian warriors show some of the variations of appearance to be seen in the first half of the 18th century. Despite their adoption of many European weapons and articles of clothing, the first nations preserved a resolutely Amerindian look by integrating all this with their tattoos and body paint. By the beginning of the 17th century, the Nations of Northwestern Europe had accepted the obvious: it was unrealistic to continue hoping that they, like Spain, would discover countries with mountains of gold and rivers of diamonds. Nevertheless, considerable profit could be made from the exploitation of more conventional natural resources. First among these was fur. Aware of the new interest in it, the Iroquois set out resolutely to control the fur trade, thereby coming into conflict with tribes allied with the French. At the same time, various conflicts arose among the European nations disputing territory in North America. It was in this difficult climate that small Colonies began to emerge in New France in the 17th century.




New Weapons on Sea and Land

Throughout these turbulent times, the search for more effective weapons and equipment led to numerous technical advances. All the maritime Nations of Europe drew an ever greater distinction between warships and merchant ships. An English invention accelerated this process, namely wheeled carriages for naval cannons, which made it possible to reload easily and greatly increased the number of shots that could be fired in battle. The previous century’s galleons armed for war were replaced by vessels specifically designed for combat.


They were better able to resist cannon fire, carried many cannons on board, and could sail more rapidly. Vessels carrying more than 50 cannons were known as ships of the line. They were supported by frigates, which were smaller, faster ships with less artillery on board. The revolution in naval technology was felt as well in the merchant marine. The cargo capacity of merchant ships was increased, making it easier for them to conduct very long voyages. Sailing to China was still an adventure, but no longer an exploit.


The Dutch replaced the Portuguese as the leading trading power with the Orient, due to their energetic economic policies and a large merchant fleet. On land, the art of warfare was also evolving quickly. The century between the beginning of the Wars of Religion around 1550 and the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 witnessed very rapid technical and tactical progress. In Cartier’s time, battlefields were dominated by weapons for hand-to-hand combat, especially swords and spears. A century later, portable firearms dominated: harquebuses and muskets. Artillery also made considerable progress. The calibres were rationalized and cannons grew lighter, so that fewer men and horses were required to move them. Mortars, which were very useful in sieges for shooting explosives over walls and fortifications, carved out a place for themselves in the array of artillery, although they were particularly dangerous to use.




From Harquebuses to Muskets

Muskets began replacing harquebuses in the final third of the 16th century. However, the change-over was slow. Harquebuses were relatively light weapons, although their effectiveness was limited by their small calibre. Muskets provided the greatest possible penetration, but their large calibre made them too heavy. Around 1590, muskets weighed about 7.5 kg and fired balls about 21.7 mm in diameter. In order to aim them, the barrel, where most of the weight lay, had to be supported by a kind of forked rod, which was a major inconvenience. The Dutch succeeded in somewhat lightening these miniature cannons.


Around 1600, their muskets supported by forks weighed 6 to 6.5 kg and fired balls about 18.5 mm in diameter. Muskets continued to improve, benefiting from technical progress made in the production of barrels. The Army of King Gustav Adolf I of Sweden, considered the most innovative in the first third of the 17th century, was the first to adopt new, lighter weapons. A chronicler of 1632 reported having seen a company of Swedish soldiers and among them were musketeers armed with the new, very light muskets without forks.


This progress was made possible mostly by modifications to the wooden butt and the barrel. However, the reduction in weight came at the cost of a reduced calibre and the balls were henceforth only 16 mm in diameter. Finally, around 1650, improvements to musket design produced a weapon weighing only about 4.5 to 5 kg and no longer requiring forks. Musketeers fought on battlefields in platoons, companies and battalions.


Protected by pikemen against cavalry charges, they fired salvos at the rate of about two a minute. That may appear very little compared with archers who could fire numerous arrows in the same amount of time. However, a lifetime of training was needed to become a good archer, while musketeers could learn the basic skills of their trade in a week. As for accuracy of aim, this was not a terribly important concern on the battlefields of Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. With the exception of pikemen, whose numbers continued to diminish, the transition from harquebuses to muskets led to the gradual abandonment of helmets and cuirasses, which were heavy to carry and provided even less protection against gunfire that was growing more and more murderous. The agility required to handle muskets also encouraged changes in musketeers’ clothing.




The Soldiers of Trading Companies

The few French soldiers who landed in Canada from 1604 on were usually veterans of the incessant conflicts raging across Europe. They were recruited and hired by trading companies that obtained monopolies in New France or exclusive rights to exploit resources and trade them. In exchange for this privilege, the companies agreed to several obligations to the king, namely to colonize New France, Christianize the Amerindians, govern and defend the interests of His Majesty. These activities required a certain amount of armed protection, which the companies also undertook to provide. Since the companies owed absolute loyalty and obeisance to the king, the men-at-arms whom they paid were, to some extent, just as much soldiers as their colleagues who were paid out of the royal treasury.


Both types of soldiers were bound to fight the enemies of the realm, regardless of who or where they were. Few soldiers were sent to Canada in the first decades of the French Regime for the simple reason that they were expensive. Often on the verge of bankruptcy, trading companies hired as few soldiers as possible. Another possible explanation is that members of the expeditions were rarely clearly identified as soldiers in the records of the times. Military men did not only engage in soldiery; they had other occupations as well, which may obscure our view of them.


The records often mention people described only as the companion to someone, Champlain for instance, taking action in battles. Flexibility of roles was necessary in a nascent colony, but did not prevent military duties from occupying an important place alongside the other occupations of soldiers and companions. At the time of the trading companies, rank and authority in New France were entirely military in nature. The Colony’s Governor was also the Supreme Commander. In the absence of any councils to provide opposition, his authority was absolute. This form of autocratic government remained essentially unchanged throughout the French Regime.




Canadian Military History. Part 8.

The first Permanent Colonies

Sieur de Monts, the lieutenant-general and vice-admiral of the Colony, obtained the monopoly on the natural resources of New France for several years. He was responsible for establishing the first permanent French settlements, in both Acadia, where he constructed the forts of Saint-Croix and Port-Royal and in the St. Lawrence Valley, where he had the first fort built in Quebec. The Acadian Colonies developed good relations with the Amerindian tribes occupying this territory, namely the Micmacs and Abenakis, although these settlements became embroiled in disputes among the European Nations that wanted to appropriate this land for themselves.


The Colonies in the St. Lawrence Valley, however, were perpetually drawn into conflict with Amerindians. The History of the Acadian Settlements is full of turbulence, periods of abandonment, capture and recapture. In 1604, Sieur de Monts, whose monopoly covered only Acadia at the time, sent a first expedition to Saint-Croix and had a fort built there. When an outbreak of scurvy killed 35 of the 80 residents, the survivors moved to Port-Royal, where they constructed a new Habitation. In 1613, Englishmen from Virginia razed all the French positions in Acadia. Port-Royal arose again from the ashes in 1620, and a new Habitation was built farther north, at Miscou, near the entrance to Chaleur Bay.


However, the British Colonies developed rapidly after 1621 and by 1629 the British flag was once again flying over the fort at Port-Royal. The treaty of 1632 returned Acadia to France, but only for a short time because the British were still claiming this land. Shortly after his first ventures in Acadia, Sieur de Monts extended his monopoly to the St. Lawrence Valley and dispatched another expedition, led by Champlain, to the site of Quebec City. On July 3, 1608, Champlain began the construction of the Habitation in what would become the lower town of Quebec, in order to provide protection for the fledgling colony. These, then, were the timid beginnings of the first permanent settlement in New France.


A new fort was built at Quebec in 1620 to replace the decaying Habitation of 1608 and in 1624 a square wall with two little towers on the corners was added for the security of the place. 2 years later, Fort Saint-Louis was constructed on the heights of Cap Diamant. Eventually it became the residence of the Governor General under the name Château Saint-Louis. Champlain’s alliance with the Hurons and Algonquins provoked the hostility of the Iroquois, who wanted this relationship to fail. From 1609 until the peace of 1622, Champlain and some his men set off on several campaigns against them. In 1627, the monopoly for New France was turned over to the Company of the Hundred Associates.



It sent out so few soldiers that when the vessels of the Kirke brothers, privateers chartered by the King of England, Charles I, cast anchor at Quebec in 1629, only a handful of soldiers were available to meet them. Thus France lost its Colony, which was returned in 1632 by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, as was Acadia. The next year, Champlain returned to Quebec with 3 ships and repossessed Fort Saint Louis. In 1634, one of the gentlemen on the voyage, Sieur de la Violette, left to establish Trois-Rivières and build a fort there.


The Colony’s garrison was doubtless still very small when the new governor, Charles Huault de Montmagny, arrived in Quebec in 1636, probably with some reinforcements. He was a naval officer, a Knight of the Order of Malta and a veteran of battles against Turkish and Arab corsairs. A quick tour of the little Colony convinced him that its military defence needed urgent reorganization. He instructed the engineer Jean Bourdon to make improvements to Fort Saint-Louis at Quebec, where he would reside as governor, by replacing the wooden palisade with walls of stone and masonry and by building a guardhouse.


A redoubt was built in the lower town, adding cannons to cover the river and reinforcing the platform on which they stood. At the Trois-Rivières fort as well, a platform and cannons were added. The Colony was therefore now animated by a much more martial spirit than under Champlain, as this quotation shows. We’ve here two brave Knights, one as Governor, that being Monsieur de Montmagny and the other as his Lieutenant, that being Monsieur de l’Isle. We also have very worthy Gentlemen and a number of experienced, resolute soldiers.


It’s a pleasure to see them conducting their war exercises in the sweetness of peacetime, to hear the crack of the muskets and cannons only as festive noises. The Diane the first drum call of the day awakens us every morning, and we see the sentries posted. The guardhouse is always well-stocked. Each squad has its days to stand sentry. In a word, our fortress of Kébec is guarded in peacetime like an important position in wartime (Relations des Jésuites (Quebec City: 1858), 1636, pp. 41-42. Lieutenant de L’Isle was also a knight of the Order of Malta).






Worsening Relations with the Iroquois

The peace of 1622, inherited from Champlain, gradually dissolved during the course of the 1630s, when the Iroquois obtained firearms in exchange for beaver pelts from the Dutch at Fort Orange (today Albany, New York). The French refused to trade arms or at least confined the practice strictly to some Hurons converted to Christianity. Eager to avenge the defeats they had previously suffered at the hands of the French, and now equipped to do so, the Iroquois grew increasingly hostile.


The smouldering conflict finally erupted in 1641, when Governor Montmagny, accompanied by his entire retinue, went by boat to a meeting with the Iroquois chiefs near Trois-Rivières in order to negotiate with them. In high European style, Montmagny placed in one canoe a guidon (the company standard-bearer) and a herald (the diplomatic courier).


The canoe, guidon and herald were received with scorn by the Iroquois, who hooted at the emissaries, waved the scalp of an Algonquin allied with the French and shot arrows at the French boats. Outraged by all this insolence, Montmagny responded with swivel gun and musket fire. It was the beginning of a quarter century of hostilities. These were the prevailing conditions when, in May 1642, a group of colonists under the leadership of a former officer, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, went to Montreal Island to establish a settlement. Considerable audacity was needed for such an undertaking, for this location, near Iroquois territory, was particularly exposed to attack. The new settlers constructed a fort, and the next year, equipped it with artillery. If the inhabitants of Quebec lived in relative security, the same was not true of the settlements of Trois-Rivières and Montreal, which their inhabitants never left without their muskets, swords and pistols.


The danger was such in Ville-Marie (which would one day become Montreal) that all inhabitants were expected to provide for their own defence. It is not surprising therefore that they asked the king for colonists who were all people with a stomach for war, knowing how to handle a trowel with one hand and a sword with the other. The defensive organisation of the colony proceeded. In August 1642, Governor Montmagny, having received a contingent of about 40 soldiers from France, ordered the construction of a fort at the mouth of the Richelieu River, where the city of Sorel now lies, in order to block the traditional invasion route of the Iroquois.


In addition, the Queen of France, Anne of Austria, was particularly interested in Canadian affairs (though primarily from the point of view of protecting the missions) and she provided 100,000 livres to raise and equip a company of 60 soldiers. This was done in the winter of 1643-44 and the company distributed among the various parts of the country, according to a chronicle of the time. These soldiers arrived in Quebec in June 1644. 22 of them were then sent 1,300 km away to the Hurons, that is, to the Sainte-Marie mission on the shores of Lake Huron, where they arrived on September 7. Here they lived with the Jesuits and shared their table. In September 1645, they returned to Ville-Marie, escorting a convoy of some 60 canoes loaded with beaver [For the mission of SainteMarie, see Kidd, Kenneth, E., The Excavation of SteMarie I (University of Toronto, 1949). In 1645, 58 Frenchmen, of whom 22 were soldiers, were at SainteMarie. (AC, C11A, Vol. 1, f. 237), decree of March 27, 1647 regulating the habitans of the land of Canada. (AC, C11A, Vol. 1, f. 245), decree regulating the habitans of New France. Paris, March 5, 1648]. This expedition was remarkable from several points of view.



It was the first time that a French or any European, garrison had been dispatched to defend positions this far west. Second, what the soldiers were guarding was not a solidly constructed fort, equipped with cannons, but a mission protected by a simple palisade in Amerindian style. Finally, the economic impact of the fur convoy, which reached its destination thanks to the vigilance of this escort, was considerable. However, the Queen’s soldiers were insufficient in number to ensure the safety of the French and their Amerindian allies.


This detachment seems to have been incorporated with the regular garrison after 1645, because it was not mentioned again. At this time, there were perhaps about 60 French soldiers, distributed between the settlements of Montreal, Trois-Rivières and Quebec. In 1642, well supplied with muskets and correspondingly more bellicose, the Iroquois attacked Fort Richelieu, which had just been built astride their route. Their skill in handling their new weapons surprised the French. In addition, despite the exposure of the site, soldiers were in such short supply that the garrison of this strategically vital fort had to be reduced to about ten men. The guerilla warfare was constant. Any soldier who ventured outside the fortifications, if only to hunt, was headed toward almost certain death. Finally abandoned toward the end of 1646, Fort Richelieu was burned by the Iroquois in February 1647.




The destruction οf Huronia

The native peoples had been ravaged for some time by disastrous epidemics sparing no tribe that came into contact with Europeans. Both the Iroquois and the Hurons were heavily afflicted. Apart from this scourge, however, the Iroquois had gained certain advantages over the Hurons. While most of the Iroquois rejected the missionaries, the Hurons ended up divided between those who became Christians under the influence of the Jesuits and those who remained loyal to their traditional beliefs. Furthermore, the Iroquois were very close to the Dutch in Fort Orange, with whom they traded, while the Hurons had to travel hundreds of kilometres to exchange their furs for French goods.


Finally and most importantly from a military point of view, the Iroquois obtained firearms from the Dutch from approximately the year 1640, while the Hurons did not have any. Bolstered by all these advantages, the Iroquois felt that the time had come to implement their grand plan for the destruction of the Hurons, the allies of the French. Perhaps because there was a scent of menace in the air, a detachment of 8 soldiers from the Trois-Rivières garrison and 4 from the Montreal garrison escorted a large convoy of canoes headed for Huron country.


These 12 soldiers carried with them a small piece of artillery for the defence of the Sainte-Marie mission. The attack took place in the spring of 1649. More than 1,000 Iroquois warriors, armed to the teeth and outfitted with firearms, descended on Huronia. The final assault was under way after years of harassment. Several Huron villages, including the missions of Saint-Louis and Saint-Ignace, fell to the invaders. The losses were enormous. Only three of the 400 inhabitants of Teanaostaiae escaped with their lives, while the Iroquois lost only ten warriors. Other Hurons abandoned their villages, with no hope of returning and scattered. Finally, the largest mission, that of Sainte-Marie, was abandoned, portending the end of Huronia. Its inhabitants, both French and Huron, took refuge on Christian Island, known as Gahoendoe in Amerindian. Here, in May 1649, with the help of able-bodied men, the few soldiers from the garrison transported the cannon that had arrived the previous year. They all applied themselves to constructing a little bastioned fort which they named Sainte-Marie II.


However, famine struck the little colony of refugees during the winter of 1649-50, carrying off hundreds of Hurons. Finally, on June 10, 1650, after having buried not only their dead but also the cannon on the island, the approximately 300 surviving Hurons and the few remaining Frenchmen set out for Quebec, where they arrived on July 28. This was the end of Huronia, but not of the Hurons, for on October 15 of the same year, the Hurons departed for war, according to a note of the Jesuit superior in Quebec.




Guerilla Warfare in the heart of the French Colony

The fall of Huronia enabled the Iroquois to concentrate their subsequent war efforts on the French settlements in the St. Lawrence Valley. The French abandoned all their missions and positions west of Montreal, while to the south Fort Richelieu lay in ashes. As a result, all the major routes to Montreal -the Ottawa River, the Richelieu River and the upper St. Lawrence- were more or less under Iroquois control. The intensity of Iroquois incursions into French-held territory increased and a virtually permanent guerilla war ensued. Unlike the colonists in New England and New Holland, the inhabitants of New France now had to endure war in the very heart of their settlements.


To meet the threat, there were only tiny garrisons and a flying camp of regular soldiers and volunteers. In 1651, it was decided to strengthen it by raising its numbers to 70. However, the next year it was disbanded for reasons of economy. It was revived in 1653 to assist the Trois-Rivières garrison, which was struggling to fend off Iroquois attacks, before being permanently disbanded. After 1652, the permanent garrison should have consisted of 15 soldiers in Quebec, 10 in Trois-Rivières and 10 in Montreal, with another 14 soldiers in Trois-Rivières; in actual fact, however, the garrison consisted of only 35 soldiers.


Nevertheless, the French and Iroquois concluded a peace treaty in the fall of 1653, even though it was of short duration. The establishment of the French mission of Sainte-Marie de Gannentaha in the heart of Iroquois country in July 1656 seems surprising at first. However, it was in response to the wishes expressed three years earlier by the Iroquois of the Onondaga nation.


A party of soldiers led by Zacharie Dupuy accompanied the 5 Jesuit missionaries who founded this mission on the shores of Lake Gannentaha (now known as Lake Onondaga, southeast of Syracuse, N.Y.). There were apparently about 20 soldiers in the party, recruited in France by Dupuy himself. To be counted with the soldiers who were at Onondaga from 1656 to Quebec City, May 4, 1658. Financial record stating that 180 livres had been given to Dupuy in France by Father Lejeune, probably to cover recruiting costs, in addition to 188 livres for his services. 17 soldiers were named, 5 of whom were paid after September 1657 and the others after May 1656. The establishment of the Sainte-Marie mission did not please all the Amerindians however.


The Mohawks were particularly opposed to this gesture of openness toward the French and mounted a few raids in the hope of breaking the peace. The number of ambushes increased considerably over a wide area in the fall of 1657. The situation of the French in the mission became untenable. They knew that, sooner or later, the Onondagas would once again rally to the other nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. To remain where they were was to accept a sentence of torture and death. Therefore, they secretly abandoned the camp under cover of darkness on March 20, 1658.




Another round of Iroquois Wars

Thereafter, war with the Iroquois broke out even more intensely, with the Amerindians holding the strategic advantage. They had defeated their enemies to the west, the Eries and henceforth had nothing to fear. The Hurons had been practically annihilated and the other Amerindian allies of the French were not nearly strong enough. The Iroquois also held the numerical advantage, because they could not fail to realize that the French garrison numbered barely 50 men. Well provided with arms by the Dutch, the Iroquois went from victory to victory for nearly a decade. Concern, if not panic, emanates from pages penned by French writers of the time.

The Iroquois were everywhere. They struck and disappeared immediately, audacious and always elusive. The fate of their victims was enough to make the hardiest of French souls tremble with fear. A quick death was a blessing, compared with the slow agony of those who were scalped or worse still, roasted over low fires in an orgy of torture. The fear pervading the French colony spelled Iroquois victory in what today would be called psychological warfare.


The French responded to these raids as best as they could. In 1658, Governor Voyer d’Argenson set off in pursuit of the Iroquois with a party of 100 men. He intended to confront the Iroquois in a pitched battle, which he had every expectation of winning. Numerous colonists came to assist and swell the ranks of the few soldiers at his disposal. But the Iroquois seemed to evaporate into thin air. A further reason for concern was that no reinforcements arrived from France, despite all the appeals for assistance. Despairing of his cause, the Governor fell back on defensive measures, encouraging the inhabitants, who were often living in isolation, to gather together in closed, fortified villages. This led to the creation of the villages of Saint-Pierre, on Île d’Orléans near Quebec and Sainte-Marie at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, not far from Trois-Rivières. Even the windmills were fortified. The colonists were gradually succumbing to a siege mentality.




Canadian Military History. Part 9.

A legendary battle

It was in this atmosphere that occurred the adventure of Adam Dollard des Ormeaux and his 16 companions, consecrated the saviours of New France by one wave of Canadian historiographers, who practically canonized them, before being deprecated by a second wave as little more than profiteers searching for booty in the form of a load of furs. Fortunately, this debate has now calmed down.


The military aims of the expedition undertaken by Sieur des Ormeaux, the young commander of the Montreal garrison, did not by any means exclude the possibility of making a profit if he and his companions succeeded in appropriating some furs. At this time, it was considered normal and totally legitimate for victors to seize booty and nobody, from kings to simple men-at-arms, was deprived of this opportunity. Wages were not always paid regularly, as in today’s armies, and booty was seen as a kind of bonus, regulated by the custom requiring that the shares be proportionate to one’s military rank.




Dollard’s expedition surprised

In the Spring of 1660, Dollard and his men left Montreal, heading northwest up the Ottawa River. They apparently wanted to protect a convoy of furs from the Ottawa Valley, which was arriving from the northwest. When the party arrived at an abandoned fort at Long-Sault that had been built by the Algonquins the previous Autumn, they were joined by a war party of 40 Hurons and 4 Algonquins. Totally unexpectedly, another war party then appeared, this time not allied but enemy and much stronger. It consisted of about 200 Iroquois warriors, who were as surprised to stumble across the French as the French were to run into them. Normally at that season the Iroquois were scattered, as they hunted along the Ottawa River and Dollard surely intended to entrap small groups of them. Exceptionally, however, they had come together in May of that year to join another party of about 400 warriors on the islands lying in the mouth of the Richelieu River, today called the Sorel Islands. The Iroquois (Onondagas) attacked immediately, but were repulsed. Some of them canoed to the Richelieu to seek reinforcements from the Mohawks and Oneidas.



They soon arrived, together with some Iroquoized Hurons, who succeeded in persuading about 30 of their brethren in Dollard’s camp to join them instead. Then the Iroquois, with the Huron defectors, approached the little fort. The remaining defenders fired a salvo, killing a few attackers. An all-out assault followed, but it too was repulsed. Seeing this, the Iroquois reverted to the methods they used to lay seige to Amerindian villages and attempted to knock down the palisade. In order to push them back the French threw, as makeshift grenades, 2 pistol barrels filled with powder and then an entire powder keg. The result was catastrophic.


The keg hit something, fell back inside the fort and exploded, mowing down much of the small garrison. The Iroquois had only to enter the fort. Inside, 5 Frenchmen and 4 Hurons were still alive. After this battle, the Iroquois decided to return home. This prompted writers of the time to interpret the battle of Long-Sault as a great French victory, due allegedly to the heroism of the defenders, who obviously must have inflicted terrible losses on the enemy. This was evidently not the case:

the fort was taken and the entire garrison lost, clearly amounting to a French defeat. Insofar as Iroquois losses were concerned, a Dutch report stated that the Iroquois had mentioned that 14 warriors had been killed and 19 others wounded in attacking a fort defended by 17 Frenchmen and 100 savages. Hardly a great slaughter. It was also scarcely a rout when the warriors, in accordance with Amerindian Custom, decided simply to return to their villages after taking a few prisoners. Another event a little later helped to fan the legend that Dollard and his men had saved the colony at the cost of their lives. During the fall, some 600 warriors set out again for the French colony, but turned back after an accident that they interpreted as a bad omen. Cancelling a large-scale expedition for such a reason was as natural to Amerindians as it was foreign to European military logic.





Canadian Military History. Part 10.

Insufficient reinforcements

After the winter lull, the raids resumed in 1661 with even greater intensity, with about 100 Frenchmen falling victim to them. Some notice was taken in Paris of the appeals for assistance and the Company of the Hundred Associates agreed to send 100 soldiers to Canada. They arrived at the same time as the new Governor, Pierre Du Bois D’Avaugour, an experienced soldier and former Cavalry Colonel and brigadier who had served under the Maréchal de Turenne. However, in view of the hundreds of Iroquois lurking in the woods, the arrival of these few soldiers brought little sense of relief. In 1662, unchecked raids continued to take victims, including Lambert Closse, the major of Montreal.


It was therefore decided in high circles in France during 1662 to raise another hundred soldiers for Canada. They were divided into two companies, which arrived in October on board the Aigle d’or and the Flûte Royale [the Aigle d’or had been built in Brest in 1658 and the Flûte Royale purchased in Holland in the same year]. These ships were also loaded with goods and ammunition. This was still highly insufficient for the needs of the Colony, but at least a new factor was now at work: these soldiers had been raised and equipped under the supervision of a new privy counsellor and intendant of finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert.


A man of considerable stature, he was also in charge of the Royal Navy, from which these two ships were detached. The dispatch of these soldiers did not yet amount to the sending of a genuine royal regiment but was more a kind of subsidy granted by the king to the Company of the Hundred Associates. Most importantly, this assistance was the first indication of a new-found royal interest in the colonies generally and Canada in particular.

While the inhabitants waited for the promised substantial reinforcements, which never seemed to arrive, the first corps of volunteers was formed in Montreal on January 27, 1663: the Militia of the Holy Family of Jesus-Mary-Joseph [ordinance of the Governor founding the militia of the Sainte-Famille de JésusMarie-Joseph with a roll of its soldiers]. Its purpose was to assist the town’s garrison (which amounted at that time to 12 men), especially in mounting guard. Some 139 men enrolled, forming 20 squads of 7 men each, including a corporal elected by his comrades. Of the corporals, 4 had military experience. This corps was dissolved when reinforcements arrived in 1665 and replaced by a permanent militia.




Fragile Colonies

Despite all their efforts to establish themselves in North America, the French could hardly feel that the results acheived by 1660 were satisfactory. The Relations des Jésuites, published in France, depicted Canada as a forbidding place. Descriptions of martyred missionaries were not likely to attract new colonists. Even though many soldiers were needed to protect a colony as exposed as this, the garrison remained skeletal. Acadia held little appeal, with its much coveted territories that eventually slipped through the fingers of the French into the hands of the English from Boston.


Nevertheless, despite all these misfortunes, New France did succeed in taking root in North America. It struggled to get by, remaining on a virtually perpetual war footing because no one was safe from the Iroquois. However, this was not the only colony to be established in North America. Around 1660, New Holland counted some 10,000 inhabitants and the English colonies some 90,000. New France, for its part, numbered a paltry 3,500 souls. Energetic steps needed to be taken if it was to prosper and expand over vast territories. Those that France did take were essentially military.




Royal Control replaces Private Enterprise

When Cardinal Mazarin died in March 1661, young King Louis XIV decided to govern by himself and took over the reins of power. Casting a critical eye over all parts of the state, he concluded that confusion reigned everywhere in the realm. France was either absent from the newly discovered lands or its flag flew over small, undefended posts at the mercy of indigenous peoples. A wave of reforms swept through all French institutions, including the army. The 22-year-old sovereign thereby accomplished a veritable revolution, though quietly and without difficulty. In 1663, with the great reforms already well under way in France itself, the King and his ministers turned to the colonial problem.


The first step that needed to be taken was breaking the monopoly of the trading companies and substituting Royal Authority. In order to replace them, the Companies of the East and West Indies were established. Their predecessors, these companies were creatures of the King. Henceforth, the State Treasury joined forces with private capital, the Royal Navy escorted merchant ships and the King exercised considerable authority in overseeing the management of the Colonies. This was an important administrative change, but it did nothing to remedy the chronic weakness of the Colonies. The King was aware of this and decided therefore to lend a strong hand to the French Colonial World by bringing his army into play.


The West Indies First Priority

For the first time in French Military History, troops were detached from the Royal Army to serve overseas. In 1664, 200 soldiers were sent to the West Indies, accompanying Marquis Prouville de Tracy, who had been appointed lieutenant-general of all the French Americas and who was bound eventually for Guyana and Martinique. These soldiers, the first of the contingent dispatched to the Colonies, belonged to four infantry companies drawn from the Lignières, Chambellé, Poitou and Orléans regiments. During the next year, 1665, 4 other companies left the motherland, this time headed for Madagascar and the islands of the Indian Ocean.





A Regiment for Canada

It was Canada, however, that received the lion’s share of the benefits from this new policy. In the summer of 1665, an entire regiment (1,000 men in 20 companies) landed in Quebec. The Carignan-Salières Regiment, which would achieve an almost legendary status in Canada, had arrived. This regiment derived its name from Colonel Thomas-François de Savoie, Prince of Carignan, who raised it in 1644 in Piedmont in northern Italy. During the following decade, the recruiting for the regiment was done in France and the Piedmontese character of the corps gradually ebbed away. The Treaty of the Pyrenees, signed by France and Spain in 1659, resulted in a reduction in the number of regiments in the army.


Instead of being disbanded, Carignan’s unit was merged with another and on May 31 of that year, the Prince of Carignan was politely advised that, in his absence, the command had been turned over to a person of great capacity and experience Sieur de Salières colonel of an infantry regiment that is now incorporated into yours [May 31, 1659, the King to the Prince of Carignan under the name of Carignan. AG, Al, Vol. 154, p. 65, January 1659. Taken from the muster-roll of the troops of the Army of Italy. In fact, it was called Carignan-Salières. Although largely composed of Frenchmen by then, the regiment was still considered to be the most experienced of the Foreign Regiments]. The Salières Regiment had first been raised in 1630.

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