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History and Uniform of the
Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, 1860-Present
The following is an extract from the book Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970 by Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum, 1981) and is reproduced here by the kind permission of the Canadian War Museum. Reprinting or duplication of the text or illustration without permission from the Canadian War Museum is prohibited.
The Canadian Militia Act of 1855 provided for the formation of an Active Militia to consist of volunteer troops of cavalry, field batteries and foot companies of artillery, and fifty companies of rifles. By 1856, the full number of rifle companies had been raised, including four from Toronto.
Not to be outdone by Montreal, the Toronto companies requested the formation of a rifle battalion. As the Act required that a battalion consist- of a minimum of six companies from the same locality or district, it was proposed that the rifle companies of Barrie and Brampton be regimented with those of Toronto in the new battalion. In April 1860, the Second Battalion, Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada was authorized to be formed from the Barrie Rifle Company, the 1st Rifle Company of Toronto, the 3rd Rifle Company of Toronto, the Highland Rifle Company of Toronto, the Rifle Company (formerly the Foot Artillery Company of Toronto), and the Highland Rifle Company of Whitby, which inexplicably had replaced the Brampton Company. The order specified that, regardless of seniority, the Highland companies would take the flank positions when the battalion was on parade.
The possibility of war between the United States and Britain as a result of the Trent affair in 1861 produced an enthusiastic expansion of the Volunteer Movement and the formation of several new rifle companies in Toronto. The Second Battalion was reorganized in November 1862: six new Toronto companies were added, and the Barrie and Whitby companies reverted to independent status.3 Thus, the Second -Battalion became an all-Toronto unit and, in March 1863, it was renamed the 2nd Battalion, the Queen's Own Rifles of Toronto.
In 1865, Canada was threatened with invasion from the United States by the Fenian Brotherhood, and militia soldiering became a serious matter. Several provisional battalions made up of drafts from various militia battalions, including the 2nd, were placed on full-time duty on the frontier. In March, there was a general stand to of all militia units; but the provisional battalions were released from duty once the threat of invasion appeared to subside. Suddenly, on 31 May, a force of Fenians crossed the border near Fort Erie. The militia was mobilized and the Queen's Own proceeded to the threatened area at 4 AM on 1 June.5
The Fenian raids demonstrated that spirit and enthusiasm were inadequate substitutes for training and discipline. Though public interest in the militia declined with the lessening of the Fenian threat, the Queen's Own worked hard to overcome the deficiencies revealed at Lime Ridge.
In January 1882, the unit was
re-designated 2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Rifles of Canada.6
With the collapse of organized resistance at Batoche, the battalion joined in the search for Big Bear. The regiment reported that "we have with us ten days' provisions and are told to wander with systematic aimlessness for that period over a part of the country known as the Squirrel Plains." The blistering hot days and bitter cold nights of the prairie summer and the ever-present mosquitoes proved more troublesome than either the Plains or Wood Cree.
On 24 May 1940, an Active Force battalion of the regiment was mobilized. After a period of garrison duty in Newfoundland, the Queen's Own went overseas as part of the 8th Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. The battalion took part in the Normandy landings on D-Day, and fought continuously with the 3rd Canadian Division in North-West Europe until VE Day.
In May 1951, the Queen's Own provided one company for the 1st Canadian Rifle Battalion for service with Canada's NATO force in Europe. The regiment supplied a further company for the 2nd Canadian Rifle Battalion in April 1952. The two rifle battalions were re-designated the 1st and 2nd battalions, The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada, in October 1953, and taken on the strength of Canada's regular army. After postings to Korea and Europe, the regular battalions were disbanded in 1968, when the strength of the Canadian Army was reduced. The militia battalion still exists and continues to have its headquarters in Toronto.
When the Second Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada was formed in 1860, each of the six companies from which it was formed had its own uniform. As the Barrie and Whitby companies were based outside Toronto, the battalion never did parade as a complete unit. However, even a parade of the four Toronto companies was a colourful event: the 2nd and 3rd companies were dressed in rifle green with red facings; the 5th, a converted foot artillery company, continued to parade in its blue artillery dress, while the 4th company, formerly the Highland Rifle Company of Toronto, appeared in full Highland dress.
The Highland company wore a double-breasted rifle-green doublet with Inverness flaps, slashed cuffs, and red facings. Kilts were of Government (Black Watch) tartan, and a plaid of the same pattern crossed the chest diagonally and came forward over the left shoulder. Trews were worn for undress and service dress. The sporran was that of the 93rd Highlanders; the officer's sporran had a badger-head design with tassels set in gilt cups. Red and white diced hose were worn with red garters and tabs, and the head-dress was a Glengarry with long feathers.
After Confederation, the militia companies were required to re-enrol under the terms of the Militia Act of 1868. When the authorities insisted that the Highland company adopt the same dress as the rest of the battalion, the Highlanders were adamant: no kilt, no company! Faced with equally adamant opposition, the colourful unit was dissolved.
The first regimental uniform of the Queen's Own Rifles consisted of a shako of 1864-68 pattern with green ball, rifle-green trousers, and green tunic with red facings. The forage cap was the pork-pie-shaped Kilmarnock; belts and leather equipment were black.
Officers wore a rifle-green tunic faced with red and laced with five rows of black cord across the front. The rifle-green trousers were trimmed with two rows of black braid on a scarlet stripe. Officers and NCOs above the rank of corporal wore a black leather pouch belt with silver chain, whistle, and belt badge.
Officers were ordered to provide a patrol jacket and forage cap for wear on normal drill parades. They were also to supply a winter uniform composed of a dark-grey greatcoat trimmed on the collar and down the front with grey fur, a forage cap with a band of grey fur and black leather peak, knickerbockers reaching to the knees, and long boots.
Several changes in dress took place after 1868: the peaks of officers' forage caps, and the scarlet facings of the collars andcuffs of their patrol jackets were removed. The winter uniform was changed to a black cloth patrol jacket trimmed with black fur, a black wedge-shaped fur cap, dress trousers, and short leggings.
The unpopular Kilmarnock cap was replaced by the Glengarry in 1871; it, in turn, gave way to a rifle-green field service cap with red ball. In 1877, the black fur rifle busby was adopted for full dress.
A complete new issue of clothing was made in 1877, and it was in this pattern of uniform that the Queen's Own went West in 1885. The plate illustrates a private of the Queen's Own Rifles on active service in what is now Saskatchewan in 1885. The green tunic is closed with seven bronze buttons and trimmed down the front with red cloth. The red collar is edged with black braid; the green shoulder-straps with red piping bear the letters QOR in red. The pointed green cuffs are trimmed with black braid edged with red, and the trousers have a red welt down the outside seam.
The soldier wears a Glengarry forage cap, issued after supplies of the regimental field service cap were exhausted. Because of supply difficulties and hard wear on uniforms that already had seen four or five years' service, the red infantry tunic was issued in the field to some of the Queen's Own.
Equipment consisted of a black leather waist-belt to which was attached a black ball bag and a bayonet frog and scabbard. The black cross-belt supported a black cartridge-box on the right hip. Also issued for active service were a square canvas knapsack, a water-bottle, and a black haversack. The Queen's Own was armed with the short two-banded Snider-Enfield rifle and long sword bayonet.
With the arrival of hot weather in late June, the Queen's Own adopted an improvised summer-service dress of have-locks, peaked low round caps with white cover and neckcloth, and grey flannel blouses made up for the regiment by the ladies of Toronto. The blouses were loose fitting and had low collars, shoulder-straps, and breast pockets. Though not the height of military fashion, these comfortable blouses were welcomed by the troops, as their rifle-green tunics had become badly worn.
While full dress was unsuitable for active service, it was the only clothing available to Canada's soldiers, and even it was in short supply. White foreign-service-pattern helmets and suits of grey Halifax tweed were ordered for summer wear, but arrived after the campaign was
over. However, the Northwest Rebellion was the last campaign in which Canadians were required to fight in full dress.