Regiment | The Canadian Encyclopedia



A regiment is a body of troops composed of squadrons, batteries or companies; it is often divided into battalions for military operations. A single-battalion regiment ranges in size from 300 to 1,000.

Royal Canadian Regiment Battalion Parade, Wellington Barracks, Halifax, Nova Scotia (ca. 1907)
(photo by Notman Studio (Halifax), courtesy Library and Archives Canada / PA-028414)


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 Force 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.

European Origins

In medieval Europe, the basic organization raised for battle was the company. In the 16th century, companies were 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 regiments. Later, Revolutionary France structured each of its regiments permanently into three battalions — a common but never universal practice.

New France

Very early on, French settlers in Canada formed a militia (see History of the Armed Forces in Canada), which was 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 of its troops returned to France after three years. Until the Seven Years’ War, the militia and the regular infantry serving in the colony, the 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 eight regiments arrived at Louisbourg and Quebec.

Early British Rule

That war also brought the British regular army to Canada, which had previously garrisoned Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. After the conquest of New France, the British retained and built upon the French militia organization, adding their own military heritage. When the Americans marched against Quebec in 1775 during the American Revolution, the garrison consisted only of two weak British regular battalions, two composite battalions of militia and the Royal Highland Emigrants. This last one, eventually two 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. Units like 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, Royal Canadian Volunteers and 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 the 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. In Upper Canada, only the “flank companies” (a term for the two 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 semi-official units already in existence gained official status. For instance, the York Dragoons, part of the West York Regiment of Militia since 1822, 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 United States 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 the Canadian Grenadier Guards today. 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 two 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 were also 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).

Personnel of the Calgary Regiment visiting personnel of the 1st Battalion, 5th Mahratta Light Infantry, Indian Army (Florence, Italy, 28 August 1944)
(photo by J.E. DeGuire, courtesy Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-160452)

The 20th Century

In 1900, all militia infantry battalions were renamed as regiments, although most retained only one battalion. The organization created for the First World War 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, such as Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), which was formed primarily from British ex-soldiers settled in Canada. PPCLI 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 part of Canada then.)

After the war, Canada disbanded the CEF units but decided that existing regiments would perpetuate wartime battalions with which they were most closely associated 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 (“Van Doos”), 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 the Second World War, the army mobilized the Active Service Force from existing regiments. Individual units fought from Hong Kong to northwest 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 two 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 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, two 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.

Modern Organization

In 1968, the Canadian army, navy and air force were unified by Minister of National Defence Paul Hellyer; this was an attempt to create uniform and streamlined land, air and sea units in a more efficient Canadian Armed Forces. The change was met with resistance and disdain by many regiments, which saw 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 in the name of efficiency. 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.

Canadian army (CA) regiments, both Regular Force and Reserve Force, are part of four geographical commands, which were created in 2013 from four former Land Force Areas. The 5th Canadian Division (Cdn Div) (Halifax) covers the four Atlantic provinces. The 2nd Cdn Div (Montreal) covers Quebec. The 4th Cdn Div (Toronto) covers most of Ontario, while the 3rd Cdn Div (Edmonton) covers the four western provinces and a portion of North Western Ontario.

2nd Cdn Div (Montreal)
3rd Cdn Div (Edmonton)
4th Cdn Div (Toronto)
5th Cdn Div (Halifax)
34 CBG
35 CBG
2nd CDSG
2nd CDTC
CFB Valcartier
2nd CRPG
38 CBG
39 CBG
41 CBG
3rd CDSG
CFB Edmonton
CFB Shilo
CFB Suffield
3rd CDTC
1st and 4th CRPG
31 CBG
32 CBG
33 CBG
4th CDSG
CFB Petawawa
CFB Kingston
4th CDTC
3rd CRPG
36 CBG
37 CBG
5th CDSG
CFB Gagetown
5th CDTC
5th CRPG

(Note: CMBG = Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group; CBG = Canadian Brigade Group; CCSB = Canadian Combat Support Brigade; CDSG = Canadian Division Support Group; CDTC = Canadian Division Training Centre; and CRPG = Canadian Ranger Patrol Group)

In the Canadian army Regular Force, there are currently three armoured, four artillery (one specialized), four engineer (one specialized), one signal, one intelligence and three infantry regiments. Each infantry regiment has three battalions. At the tactical level, an armoured regiment or an infantry battalion forms the core of a battle group, which is the modern building block of army combat organization. A battle group also includes artillery, reconnaissance, engineer and other specialized units. The armoured regiment or infantry battalion that provides the core of the battle group will usually provide its commander.

One other regiment, the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), formed in 2006, is not part of the army but belongs to the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

In the Canadian army Reserve Force, there are a large number of armoured, artillery, engineer, signal and infantry regiments from coast to coast. Although called regiments, they are formed around a small core of 100 to 250 soldiers.

From 2001 to 2014, each of the permanent regiments 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 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

External Links