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History and Uniform of the Royal Canadian Regiment, 1883 to 1970
by Jack L. Summers and Rene Chartrand

Private of the Royal Canadian Regiment, 1898
(artist: R.J. Marrion - copyright :Canadian War Museum)

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 1883 provided for the establishment of a small regular force of one troop of cavalry, three batteries of artillery (two of which had been formed in 1870), and not more than three companies of infantry to serve as schools of military instruction for the volunteer militia.

An order of 21 December 1883 authorized the formation of three schools of infantry formed into one corps to be known as the Infantry School Corps. Each school was based on a company of the Corps; A Company was located at Fredericton, B Company at St-Jean, Quebec, and C Company at Toronto. Although the companies, consisting of some one hundred NCOs and men, were not fully raised until early 1884, the first schools of military instruction were opened in April 1883.

Canada's newly organized miniature force of regular infantry had just completed recruitment when it was required to furnish a company for the North West Field Force for service during the Northwest Rebellion of 1885. The five officers and eighty-five NCOs and men of C Company were assigned to this duty. During the final battle of the campaign at Batoche, part of the company served as marines aboard the paddle-wheeler Northcote, a unique duty for infantry in the heart of the Canadian prairies.

A fourth infantry company was authorized in August 1887 to be raised and stationed at London, Ontario. However, its formation was not completed until early in 1888. Both the schools of infantry formed by these companies and the School of Cavalry were designated Royal in July 1887.

Major-General Herbert, General Officer Commanding the Militia, recommended that Canada's regular force adopt the regimental system. Accordingly, the four companies of the Infantry School Corps were raised to regimental status in May 1892 and titled the Canadian Regiment of Infantry. In May 1893, the regiment was granted the prefix Royal by Queen Victoria and redesignated the Royal Regiment of Canadian Infantry.

The four companies of the regiment were together as a unit for the first time in 1894, at the Engineers' Camp, Levis, Quebec. Lieutenant-Colonel William Otter of the Toronto company acted as the commanding officer on this occasion. In 1896, Lieutenant-Colonel G.J. Maunsell was appointed the first full-time commanding officer of the regiment. Prior to this appointment the four companies had been commanded from militia headquarters in Ottawa by Colonel Walker Powell, the Adjutant-General.

In 1897, gold was discovered in the Yukon; and Dawson, the tiny capital of the territory, became the largest city west of Winnipeg, with a population of 18,000. The local resources of the North West Mounted Police were taxed to capacity and the Canadian government dispatched a small force of regular troops to help maintain law and order. The Yukon Field Force was authorized on 21 March 1898 to consist of twelve officers and 191 other ranks to be drawn from the three regular regiments. Lieutenant-Colonel T.B. Evans of The Royal Canadian Dragoons was appointed Commanding Officer, and the Royal Regiment of Canadian Infantry supplied three officers and 130 other ranks for this unusual force.

The Yukon Field Force departed from Ottawa by train on 6 May for Vancouver. From there it proceeded by coastal steamer, river boat, overland, and by home-made scow to its base at Fort Selkirk. A fifty-man detachment was dispatched immediately to Dawson to augment the NWMP detachment under Superintendent Sam B. Steele. The march to the Yukon took 160 days and demonstrated the resourcefulness of the Canadian regular soldier. After guarding banks and gold shipments, fighting fires, and subduing the occasional riot, the force was withdrawn in June 1900.

In April 1899, the name of the unit was changed to The Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry and, on 1 November 1901, this title was officially shortened to The Royal Canadian Regiment, a designation that remains unchanged to this day.

In the autumn of 1899, Canada's offer to send a battalion of infantry to South Africa was accepted by the British government, and on 14 October orders were issued to raise the force. The regiment provided a nucleus of trained officers and NCOs for the new battalion, and this contribution was acknowledged by designating it the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. The battalion distinguished itself at the Battle of Paardeberg on 27 February 1900, and returned to Canada the following December.

A 3rd (Special Service) Battalion of the regiment garrisoned Halifax from March 1900 to September 1902, to release the regular British battalion, the 1st Prince of Wales' Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians), for service in South Africa.

The regiment was placed on active service in September 1914 and posted to Bermuda to relieve the regular British garrison. In August 1915, the unit returned to Canada, but was sent immediately to England and from there to France; there, in December, it joined the 3rd Canadian Division as a unit of the 7th Infantry Brigade. The regiment served with this formation until the end of hostilities.

After the war, the regiment was reduced to its peace-time establishment, and resumed its original role of providing instruction for militia infantry units.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, the unit was recruited to its war establishment and assigned to the 1st Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. In June 1940, the regiment landed in Brittany after the evacuation of Dunkirk, as part of the "Second British Expeditionary Force." However, its stay was short-lived as the force was withdrawn without seeing action.
The regiment took part in the Sicily landings in July 1943, and in subsequent operations of 1st Canadian Division in Italy and North-West Europe.

In more recent times, battalions of The Royal Canadian Regiment have seen active service in Korea, formed part of Canada's NATO force, and served in UN peace-keeping operations in Cyprus and the Middle East. But it seems fitting that particular attention should be directed to what might be regarded as a relatively small part of this proud regiment's distinguished record, the provision of the first troops to serve in Canada's northland.


A soldier of the Canadian volunteer militia of the early 1880s received a government issue of clothing that included a tunic, trousers, greatcoat, and forage cap. In the official language of the day, "as the means available for the purchase of uniform clothing for the Active Militia is not at present sufficient to permit the issue of both helmets, busbies or shakos and forage caps, there will be no objection to corps ... wearing helmets, busbies or shakos procured at their own expense." As no boots were issued, there was no objection to the volunteer providing these at his own expense. Indeed, he was expected to do so.

In 1884, the first soldiers of the permanent Infantry School Corps received the standard government clothing, boots, a special issue of personal clothing including shirts, socks, and underwear, a suit of fatigue clothing, and some cleaning equipment.

The infantry uniform consisted of a scarlet cloth tunic with dark-blue collar, cuffs, and shoulder-straps. The front opening, collar base, and shoulder-straps were piped with white tape; the pointed cuffs were trimmed with a crow's-foot of white braid. The tunic skirt was closed behind, and had a plait on each side edged with white braid. There were eight buttons down the front of the tunic, and two at the waist behind. Dark-blue trousers were trimmed with a narrow red welt down the outside seam. The forage cap was a blue Glengarry with scarlet tuft and a black cockade on the left side. The badge was mounted on a scarlet backing, and worn on the cockade.

Officers' full dress was similar to that of the men, with the addition of gold braid trim on the blue collar and cuffs of the scarlet cloth tunic. On state occasions and in formal dress, their trousers were trimmed with a wide gold lace stripe with a fine crimson silk line down the centre. Mounted officers wore blue cloth pantaloons with scarlet welts, black riding boots, and spurs.

A crimson sash was worn over the left shoulder, knotting on the right side. The sword-belt was white enamelled leather with a round gilt clasp of regimental design and white leather slings. The full-dress sword-knot was gold and crimson with gold acorn, while the undress knot was of white buff leather.

For undress, officers wore a blue patrol jacket that closed with hooks. Edged all around and trimmed on the back seams with black mohair braid, the jacket had four double rows of black cord across the front. The round blue forage cap had a drooping black leather peak with gold-laced edge and a scarlet cloth band. Officers wore the Glengarry as a forage cap on some occasions.

Officers were required to supply a scarlet shell-jacket with blue collar and cuffs, and a blue waistcoat for wear as mess dress.

For winter wear, the men were issued a grey greatcoat, black wedge-shaped fur cap, and black leather mitts. Officers' greatcoats were of grey cloth with a collar of otter fur, and four rows of black cord across the front. The mitts and cap were of black otter fur; the cap had a dark-blue bag on the left side.

When first equipped in 1884, the Infantry School Corps complained about the lack of an issue of helmets for the men, and about the poor quality serge trousers.

When C Company of the corps joined General Middleton in 1885, the men wore the uniform described above. The scarlet tunic was the service dress of the day. Equipment included a white buff-leather waist-belt with white ball bag and bayonet frog, white cross-belt over the left shoulder supporting a black ammunition pouch, white haversack on the left side, water-bottle, and square canvas pack. Like the volunteers, the regulars were armed with the three-banded Snider-Enfield rifle and triangular bayonet.? Officers wore braided blue patrol jackets with peaked forage caps, and a double Sam Browne belt with sword and pistol. High boots were common on active service.

One of the more original uniforms worn by the regiment was that adopted by the Yukon Field Force in 1898. A private in this dress is depicted in the illustration. The basic uniform was the standard. scarlet infantry frock with blue collar, cuffs and shoulder-straps. The base of the collar and the shoulder-straps were piped with white, and the pointed cuffs were trimmed with a crow's-foot of white braid. The frock had two breast pockets, and closed with five brass regimental buttons.

Blue trousers were tucked well down into high beef boots that laced all the way up the front.9
The white helmet, with brass spike and helmet plate, was worn on special occasions. In addition, the troops were issued a tan felt hat, creased down the centre, looped up on the left side and fitted with a puggree.

The recently adopted Oliver-pattern equipment and a single ammunition pouch in the centre of the waist-belt was worn on the expedition. A small kit bat was worn high on the back to supplement the small valise. The unit was armed with the long Lee-Enfield magazine rifle.'

A special issue of winter clothing included a fur cap of Yukon pattern, a dark-grey pea-jacket with detachable fur collar, knee-length woollen stockings and buckskin-covered woollen mitts." For extreme northern temperatures the men wore practical caribou-skin parkas and mukluks.

Duck fatigue dress was worn on long hot arctic summer days as the force toiled up the northern waterways to the base camp at Fort Selkirk. Yet, even during this vigorous overland trek, the men were not allowed to forget that they were soldiers. On 24 May 1898, the Yukon Field Force paraded in scarlet and blue frocks and white helmets to celebrate Her Majesty's birthday.

RCR Drum and Bugle Corps in Halifax, ca. 1905 (NLA)

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