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Canadian Western Cavalry 1903–1914

August 28, 2015
by René Chartrand
The following text and artwork originally appeared in the Journal of the Company of Military Historians, as part of their Military Uniforms in America series.
The period 1903–1914 witnessed a considerable expansion of Canadian volunteer militia cavalry units, going from eight to thirty-six regiments. This was most notable in the newly settled western prairies and British Columbia (Saskatchewan and Alberta became provinces in 1905) where seventeen new regiments appeared. Cavalry was the favored arm of service in this largely agricultural area dotted with cattle and horse breeding ranches.1
The new units had handsome and colorful uniforms that were distinctive, notably in their headdress following the South African War, in which Canadian cavalry units had distinguished themselves wearing the stiff-brimmed “Montana peak” hats. This hat also gave them a certain similarity in style with the already famed North-West Mounted Police. White helmets, popular in the 1880s and 1890s, were mostly laid aside for the new hat. The new regulation dark blue peaked forage cap issued to all militiamen was also popular and the favorite headgear in some units. The “serge frocks” with breast pockets was the standard issue since 1896 and came in scarlet or blue for cavalry units. Its collar and shoulder straps were of the unit’s facing color. These patterns were confirmed as sealed in March 1905. Pantaloons came in two types, those made of sturdy brownish tan “Bedford” cord and those in dark blue serge with either a broad stripe or two narrow ones depending on the type of unit. Brown or black leather leggings were theoretically issued with these types of pantaloons and everyone was issued steel box spurs to fit over the ankle boots. Lee-Metford rifles were usually seen until gradually replaced by the Canadian-made Ross rifles from about 1911. Belts and ammunition bandoliers were of brown leather.2
Art: Robert M. Marrion

Art: Robert M. Marrion

There were many variations to the above. The 12th added shoulder chains; the 18th had white Wolseley helmets as well as stiff-brimmed hats; the 23d had slouch hats until 1912, and all its men had dark blue frocks with shoulder chains for undress. The first uniform of the 31st was a “hybrid” mixture in 1910. From 1909, the facing colors on the serge frock were only shown on its shoulder straps, but, as the frocks were to last five years, collars with the facing color could be still seen worn by the 15th in 1912. Officers might purchase the official and expensive full dress, described in the detailed 1907 dress regulations, but most had the serge frock like their men and the dark blue patrol jacket with steel shoulder chains. The uniforms of a few of the lesser known units are presented in this plate: 3

  • 15th Alberta Light Horse (Calgary, Alberta, organized from 3 July 1905), Trooper, ca. 1908. Scarlet frock, yellow collar and shoulder straps, dark blue pantaloons with double yellow stripes, stiff-brimmed hat.
  • 22d Saskatchewan Light Horse (Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, organized from 1 March 1908), officer, ca. 1910. Scarlet frock, white collar, dark blue pantaloon with double white stripes, stiff-brimmed hat.
  • 23d Alberta Rangers (Pincher Creek, Alberta, organized from 1 April 1908), Trooper, ca. 1909. Scarlet frock, white collar and shoulder straps, dark blue pantaloons with double white stripes, slouch hat.
  • 29th Light Horse (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, organized from 1 April 1911), Sergeant, ca. 1912. Scarlet frock, scarlet collar, yellow shoulder straps, dark blue pantaloons with double yellow stripes, stiff-brimmed hat.
Since 1903, the military authorities trying to issue khaki serge uniforms were meeting with outstanding opposition. It was only in 1913 that the decision to make future issues in khaki was made. Thus, many Western cavalry units still wore scarlet frocks when World War I broke out in August 1914.4

Notes

1. On the development of Western cavalry regiments, see notably: Donald E. Graves, Century of Service (Toronto: South Alberta Light Horse Association, 2005), chapters 1 and 2; Bruce Tascona, The Militia of Manitoba 1883-1979 (Winnipeg: by the author, 1979), 15–23.
2. Department of National Defence (Ottawa, Canada), Directorate of History and Heritage (henceforth DND/DHH), Minutes of the Militia Council, 14 March 1905.
3. DND/DHH, Minutes of the Militia Council, 11 March 1909; regimental uniform notes taken in the Benson Freeman Collection, Army Museums Ogilby Trust, London, England (now closed) by the late Gen. Jack L. Summers in 1972, and transmitted to the author; Canadian Militia List, published annually in Ottawa, years 1902–1914.
4. Canadian Militia Gazette, 23 January 1905; DND/DHH, Minutes of the Militia Council, 28 January 1913.

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  1. Eastern Canada Volunteer Cavalry, 1896-1914 | MilArt

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