ANC-C95733 | All true "Hairy Paws" join the 163rd

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All true "Hairy Paws" join the 163rd
About 1916, 20th century
This artefact belongs to : © National Archives of Canada
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Keys to History

Olivar Asselin was an outspoken Montreal journalist, a nationaliste and an ardent follower of Henri Bourassa. However Asselin saw little wrong with a secular France and he yearned to defend it from German invaders. Initially Bourassa had agreed, hoping that Canadians would unite in a common cause, as had the French in August 1914. It was not to be. Ontario persecuted its French-speaking minority and Bourassa became an outspoken opponent of the war. Learning of Asselin's feelings, the Minister of Militia, Sir Sam Hughes, offered Asselin command of any battalion he could raise. Asselin agreed to be second in command to Henri Desrosiers, a veteran of the First Contingent. The 163rd Battalion was launched at Montreal's Monument national on January 21, 1916.

Asselin worked tirelessly to find good recruits, scorning the drunks and dead-beats rival units accepted. He appealed for "Poils-aux-Pattes", literally "Hairy Paws", as young men of quality in Quebec society called themselves. By February Asselin had selected 336 men, and by April 1916 he was close to his target with 974 soldiers. He got little help from Sam Hughes. In May his men were forced to share barracks with the 206th Battalion, one of the worst in the C.E.F. Asselin demanded a change of location and Hughes shipped the battalion to the British colony of Bermuda. A quarter of Asselin's men deserted in disgust -- to be replaced from the 206th Battalion. Lacking experienced officers and training areas, the 163rd was still untrained when it reached England in December 1916. Like others, Asselin's unit was broken up. He joined the 22nd Battalion as an over-age, very discontent lieutenant. His critics in Quebec rejoiced at the fate of the Poils- aux-Pattes.

  • What

    The recruiting poster for Asselin's battalion stresses that this will be an elite unit with battle-hardened officers. A bearded French soldier or poilu welcomes his hairy-pawed French-Canadian volunteers to the fray. "The drum beats, the trumpet sounds. Who stays behind? No one. This is a people who defend themselves. Forward march!"

  • Where

    Asselin recruited soldiers in competition with Lt. Col. Hercule Barré's 150th Battalion, based on the 65th Carabiniers de Mont-Royal, and with Alderman Tancrède Pagnuelo's pathetic 206th Battalion, the worst unit in the C.E.F.

  • When

    By early 1916 any Canadian who wanted to enlist had signed up. Jobs in Montreal munition factories paid more than than a soldier's $1.10 a day. Faith in early victory dissolved after July 1, 1916, when the British lost 60,000 dead and wounded in a single day.

  • Who

    Only one of the 48 battalions in the Canadian Corps in France, the 22nd Battalion, plus a company in the 14th Battalion, were French-speaking. Though Asselin deferred to his chosen commanding officer, Lt. Col. Henri DesRosiers, with a prominent nationaliste to spearhead recruiting, surely French Canadians would rally to the defence of France, as British-Canadians rallied to Britain.