N-0000.187.3 | Officers commanding Montreal Volunteers, Montreal, QC, 1860

Officers commanding Montreal Volunteers, Montreal, QC, 1860
William Notman (1826-1891)
1859, 19th century
Silver salts on paper - Gelatin silver process
27.9 x 35.6 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

The volunteer militia, whose officers are portrayed here, was an important institution, especially in English Montreal. With what one historian has called a "garrison mentality," English Montrealers put great emphasis not only on their institutions but also on their arms, uniforms, ethnic solidarity and alliance with regular British forces. Acting often as cavalry and led by merchants or landowners, the volunteers, who were particularly harsh on local French Canadian or Irish unrest, acted as an armed force in elections and in ethnic or labour disputes.

Source : The Aftermath of the Rebellions [Web tour], by Brian J. Young, McGill University (see Links)

  • What

    Militia service, particularly in the cavalry, was a tradition of the upper class in Canada. Uniforms, parades, and drills emphasized social stratification. In crises such as the rebellions, the militia served as a backup to regular British troops.

  • Where

    Volunteer units were formed across the colony but were of particular importance in Montreal, where they were called out for riots and elections, i.e. to break up fights or keep opposition candidates from the polls. They also were used to break up strikes along the Lachine Canal in the 1840s.

  • When

    In times of crisis, such as 1837, volunteer cavalry patrols consisting each of an officer and nine men patrolled Montreal from midnight to 5:00 a.m.. If necessary, they could call upon volunteer artillery units armed with cannon.

  • Who

    Local citizens in both New France and British North America had a responsibility to serve in the militia. The most prominent citizens served as officers while farmers and workers served as common soldiers. The militia was particularly important in the rebellion period.