A regiment is a body of troops composed of squadrons, batteries or companies, and often divided into battalions for military operations. A single-battalion regiment numbers 300-1000. In Canada the meaning of the term "regiment" is complex.
A regiment is a body of troops composed of squadrons, batteries or companies, and often divided into battalions for military operations. A single-battalion regiment numbers 300-1000. In Canada the meaning of the term "regiment" is complex.


A regiment is a body of troops composed of squadrons, batteries or companies, and often divided into battalions for military operations. A single-battalion regiment numbers 300-1000. In Canada the meaning of the term "regiment" is complex. Infantry regiments are administrative parent organizations that raise one or more battalions for service. Armoured regiments are normally battalion-sized units, though they may have both regular and reserve force components and administrative elements. The artillery organizes its batteries into regiments, but it also traditionally calls the entire artillery branch a regiment. Engineer and communication regiments are also battalion sized. Armoured and infantry regiments are the centre of collective pride for their members and maintain close "family" relationships. For artillery and others, the branch rather than the individual regiment is the traditional family focus. In Canadian practice, a regiment's "lifetime" is the number of unbroken years of existence, though disbanded units (and their customs and battle honours) can be perpetuated by others with a proven connection. Armoured and infantry regimental precedence is determined largely by this seniority.

Medieval Origins

In Europe, prior to the 16th century, the basic organization raised for battle was the company. Companies came to be grouped into regiments under a single superior officer for recruiting, training and administration. Regiments soon developed their own insignia and customs, and became the focus of esprit de corps. In battle array such groupings were called battalions, and this term was then often used interchangeably with regiment. Later, Revolutionary France structured each of its regiments permanently into 3 battalions, a common, but never universal practice.

The New World

French settlers in Canada very early formed a militia (see Armed Forces), organized into companies from each parish. These companies worked together in battalions as the need arose. The first regiment to serve in Canada was the Carignan-Salières Regiment, which arrived in 1665, but almost all its troops returned to France after 3 years. Until the Seven Years' War the militia and the regular infantry serving in the colony, Troupes de la Marine, were responsible for defence. Only in 1755, on the eve of war, did the French regular army return when battalions from 8 regiments arrived at Louisbourg and Québec. That war also brought to Canada the British regular army, which had previously garrisoned Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. After the conquest the British retained and built upon the French militia organization, adding their own military heritage. When the Americans marched against Québec in 1775, the garrison consisted only of 2 weak British regular battalions, 2 composite battalions of militia and the Royal Highland Emigrants. This last, eventually 2 battalions, was a British unit raised locally for full-time service in North America. It was the first of a number of colonial regular or "fencible" regiments. The American Revolution resulted in the resettlement of members of American Loyalist regiments in Upper Canada and New Brunswick. Such units as Butler's Rangers, settled at Niagara, provided veteran leaders for the militia in later years. As Britain's difficulties with Revolutionary France grew, the authorities again made use of fencible regiments. From 1793 to 1802 the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment, the Royal Canadian Volunteers and the Queen's Rangers were on full-time service in Nova Scotia, Lower Canada and Upper Canada respectively.

The 19th Century

The War of 1812 was fought, on the British side, by regular regiments, some fencible units and the militia. By this time the militia of Upper and Lower Canada was organized into regiments based upon counties, with one or more from each county as population allowed. It was impractical to call out all the inhabitants of an area for lengthy periods. Instead, in Lower Canada portions of the militia were embodied into service battalions, whereas in Upper Canada only the "flank companies" (a term for the 2 elite companies in a regular 10-company battalion) were trained and equipped. The Battalion of Incorporated Militia, which figured prominently in several battles, was really a Canadian full-time regiment made up of volunteers from such flank companies.

The Canadian regimental system changed substantially with the Militia Acts of 1846 and 1855. The "lifetime" of many of Canada's oldest present-day regiments officially begins with volunteer units created then. A few semiofficial units already in existence gained official status. For instance, the York Dragoons, since 1822 part of the West York Regiment of Militia, were gazetted in 1847 as the 1st Toronto Independent Troop of Cavalry, and eventually became the Governor General's Horse Guards. The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery traces its continuous existence from field batteries formed in 1855. Initially the volunteer cavalry and infantry were organized only as troops and companies. However, threats of war with the US and invasion by the Fenians in the 1860s demonstrated the need for larger units. The 1st Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada, was formed in 1859 and is today the Canadian Grenadier Guards. By Confederation most of the force was consolidated into such numbered battalions. The Canadian system was extended to the Maritimes in the Militia Act of 1868 and absorbed volunteer regiments already in existence there.

The regular Canadian army came later. The first permanent units, schools of gunnery formed in 1871, still exist as batteries in the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Three companies of the Infantry School Corps, established in 1883, were the beginnings of the Royal Canadian Regiment. The Cavalry School Corps, also begun in 1883, was the nucleus for the Royal Canadian Dragoons. During the South African War the Royal Canadian Regiment formed 2 new battalions. The 2nd Battalion went overseas and the 3rd relieved British troops at Halifax. Both were disbanded after the war. Several battalions of Canadian Mounted Rifles were raised for war service and also were disbanded upon their return. Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona, privately raised Strathcona's Horse for South Africa. This was later perpetuated in the permanent force as Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians).

The 20th Century

In 1900 all militia infantry battalions were renamed as regiments, although most retained only one battalion. The organization created for WWI was very different. The Canadian Expeditionary Force was composed of new numbered infantry battalions, artillery batteries and other arms and services. Militia regiments served only as recruiting bases, and in many cases a regiment raised more than one overseas battalion. There were a few exceptions, eg, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, which was formed primarily from British ex-soldiers settled in Canada; it fought for a year in the British army before joining the Canadian Corps in France. Other units remained outside the Corps. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade, composed of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), the Fort Garry Horse and the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, served throughout the war with the British army. (The Royal Newfoundland Regiment also fought with the British since Newfoundland was not then part of Canada.) After the war Canada disbanded the CEF units, but decided that existing regiments would perpetuate wartime battalions with which they were most closely associated in order to preserve their battle honours. At the same time, names replaced numbers in regimental titles. Two new regiments joined the permanent force: PPCLI and the Royal 22nd Regiment ("Vandoos"), the latter a French-speaking unit that had served with distinction as a CEF battalion. Later, reserve force reorganization converted several regiments from one role to another. Six infantry regiments became "tank," and others became "machine gun," previously a separate corps. Cavalry generally converted to "armoured" (tank or armoured car) regiments.

In WWII the army mobilized the Active Service Force from existing regiments. Individual units fought from Hong Kong to NW Europe. Artillery batteries, until then brigaded for tactical purposes, were combined permanently into regiments. A unique Canadian-American unit, the First Special Service Force, was formed, organized along American regimental patterns.

The regular force greatly expanded in the 1950s for the Korean War and NATO service. Additional infantry battalions formed a new regiment, the Canadian Guards, and regular components of 2 existing reserve regiments, the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada and the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. Other reserve regiments such as the Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) became reserve battalions of the remaining regular infantry regiments. New artillery regiments and a signal regiment were raised. Two reserve armoured regiments, the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise's) and the Fort Garry Horse, also raised regular components. Tight defence budgets and reduced manpower in the 1960s led to a smaller army in the unified Canadian Armed Forces. The Canadian Guards disappeared, as did the regular components of some other units. In order to broaden francophone representation 2 new regular regiments were formed: the 12e Régiment blindé du Canada and the 5e Régiment d'artillerie légère du Canada. The Canadian Airborne Regiment was also created; it has since been disbanded.

The Modern Organization

The unification of the Canadian Armed Forces by Minister of National Defence Paul Hellyer, an attempt to create uniform and streamlined land, air, and sea units in a more efficient Canadian Armed Forces, was met with resistance and disdain by many regiments which saw, in the name of efficiency, an attempt to erase the proud regimental history, traditions and identity that had acted as a cohesive factor in the lives of thousands of soldiers. The bland uni-service uniform was largely disdained and eventually rejected as the value of regimental identities and ethos was re-established through the 1970s and 1980s.

Land Force regiments, regular force and militia, are organized under 4 area commands: Land Force Atlantic Area (Halifax), which includes 4 Air Defence Regiment, 36 Brigade Group, 37 Brigade Group, 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment, and 4 Engineer Support Regiment; Land Force Quebec Area (Montréal), which includes 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, 5 Area Support Group, 34 Canadian Brigade Group, and 35 Canadian Brigade Group; Land Force Central Area Command, which includes 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, 31 Canadian Brigade Group, 32 Canadian Brigade Group, 33 Canadian Brigade Group, and 2 Area Support Group; and Land Force Western Area (Edmonton), which includes 1 Area Support Group, 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, 38 Canadian Brigade Group, 39 Canadian Brigade Group and 41 Canadian Brigade Group. The regional commands are organized within a four-command structure comprising Canada Command (Canada COM), Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM), Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) and Canadian Operational Support Command (CANOSCOM). The command structure exists to create a responsive and synergistic combined force comprising the army, navy and air force.

Most reserve units are formed around a core regiment and are deployed throughout Canada. There are currently 3 permanent regiments in the Canadian Land Forces: The Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR), the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), and the Royal 22e Regiment (Vandoos). Each consists of 2 mechanized infantry battalions (1st and 2nd Battalion), one Light Infantry and paratroop company (3rd Battalion), and a reserve battalion. These 4 battalions total 600 soldiers. At the tactical level, the regiment's battalion forms the corps of the Canadian Army's Battle Group, the modern building block of army combat organization that also includes armour, artillery, and other specialized units. The regiment that provides the core infantry battalion will usually provide the commander of the Battle Group. In 2006, Canada organized the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) to provide special operations skills and support for its main special operations unit, Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), as well as the Canadian Army. It is part of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), which was formed in 2006, and is estimated to be roughly 200 soldiers strong.

Since 11 Sept 2001, each of the permanent regiments have rotated their battalions to serve in Afghanistan, including on OPERATION APOLLO, OPERATION ANACONDA, OPERATION ATHENA, and OPERATION ARCHER, among other key combat and support missions. The regimental battalions have also formed the key Canadian contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.

While new formations and technical changes have reshaped the nature of the regiment, the timeless value of a group identity, rich in history and recognition, upon which soldiers forge their esprit de corps, has proven as valuable as it has enduring. Canada's regiments continue to constitute the core identity of the modern army soldier.

Further Reading

  • J.L. Granatstein and Norman Hillmer, Battle Lines: Eyewitness Accounts from Canada's Military History (2010); J.L. Granatstein, Canada's Army: Waging War and Keeping the Peace (2004); Canada, Army Headquarters, Historical Section, The Regiments and Corps of the Canadian Army (1964); George F.G. Stanley, Canada's Soldiers (1954).

External Links