The Royal Canadian Artillery Museum

The Best of Military History

Shilo, MB

July 14, 2000

While staying in Brandon we had an opportunity to visit one of Canada's more celebrated military museums. Just 20 minutes east of Brandon is the Royal Canadian Artillery Museum, which has dedicated itself to presenting the history of the Artillery Regiments which have come and gone over the years. It is the home to a unique collection of artillery and related artifacts. The history of artillery in Canada goes back to the beginning of Canada's military history, with the creation of both Canada's regular Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The museum displays over 10,000 items from its inception, right up to present day. A multitude of exhibits offer a look into every major conflict involvingCanadians since Confederation. Starting with the Canadian Rebellion of the 1880s when Louis Riel led the Metis people in protest against the establishment of Canadian authority over land the government had recently acquired from the Hundson's Bay Company, resulting in Riel's exile to the US. He later returned to Canada to lead the Metis and aboriginal people in open rebellion against the Canadian authority in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta. Hostilities began in March of 1885, as a band of Metis led by

Gabriel Dumont clashed with North West Mounted Police at Duck Lake. The call went out to "A" and "B" batteries of the newly formed Canadian Artillery and soon the Gunners were moving westward. The newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway allowed rapid movement of the troops, but gaps along the shores of Lake Superior had to be negotiated on horseback and foot. The climate and terrain made this passage the most trying ordeal of the campaign. By April, the two batteries had joined General Middleton's forces assembled at Fort Qu'Appelle. Here the batteries separated, one battery each assigned to the two main bodies surrounding Riel's forces. "A" Battery joined a detachment that moved eastward from Edmonton to engage the Metis at Frenchmen's Butte. After sporadic fighting , Riel surrendered on the 7th of May 1885. His chief lieutenants, Pondmaker, Dumont and Big Bear soon followed. Riel was hanged for treason at Regina on November 16, 1885, despite protest from native people and petitions from French Canadians to commute his sentence. Members of "A" and "B" Batteries remained in the West until 1886 to help the Police re-establish order. The Gunners had made their contribution to the North West Campaign, supporting the infantry by bringing direct fire on the enemy. They did this out in the open, exposed to hostile fire "over open sights". This style of fighting prevailed in the artillery in the years following the campaign. The outcome of the North West Campaign continues to effect Canadian society to the present day. There were displays on Canada's coastal batteries. In the earliest days, the Artillery was divided into two groups. Mounted or Field Artillery and Dismounted or Garrison Artillery. The Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery, assumed responsibility for coastal defense, garrison and siege artillery. As garrison life could be monotonous, competitions sponsored by the Dominion Artillery Association proved a welcome relief from militia training and guard duty. Gunners competed fiercely for positions on teams representing Canada at the National Artillery Associations Competitions at Shoeburyness, England. Conversely, aid to the civil power or "strike duty", while necessary was considered much less appealing. It was the unpleasant duty of the Garrison Artillery to remain behind to defend Canada's borders during two world wars. They helped train the men who were destined for the front lines of Europe, and longed to join their comrades overseas. Most never saw action. In July 1914 the RCGA was ordered to forts on both coasts to help local militia units defend against possible attack. Most would spend the war training troops for overseas duty and endlessly watching the sea. A few were sent to St. Lucia, a British garrison in the Lesser Antilles where, if the duty was no more exciting then the Atlantic watch, at least the weather was amenable. In 1924 the RCGA dropped the word "Garrison" from its title and its companies became batteries of the Royal Canadian Artillery. The inter-war years brought other changes to "Garrison" artillery; new roles such as Anti-Aircraft, Heavy and Super Heavy Artillery had developed during the First World War. Coastal defenses assumed renewed importance during the Second World War. Submarine and air warfare had advanced greatly. Japan's entry into the war increased the threat to Canada's West coast. New coastal defense installations sprang up. Guns were in short supply. Every available gun was pressed into service, including 6 pounders that had not been in service since the last century. Most of the guns available to Canada throughout its artillery existence are represented somewhere within the building.

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