Canadian Military Records:
an Introduction

Canadian military records are extensive, but, like those of many other colonies that eventually became sovereign nations, the vast majority were not generated by Canada itself until very recently.

As you may already know, Canada had two founding nations (other than the native Canadians): France and Britain.

The French had colonies in North America dating from the 1600s, and it soon became apparent that a military presence was necessary to protect those colonies from invasion or attack by other countries seeking control of the "New World".

Some French military records concerning their colonies in what is now eastern Canada exist from the 1600s to 1763, when France ceded control of its colonies to the British under the Treaty of Paris. Library and Archives Canada ("The LAC") has copies of these documents, as outlined in my page on the New France period.

Canadian Sabre aircraft.
Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston, Ontario
Creative Commons Licence, Wikimedia Commons

During the time period that Britain governed Canada (1763 - 1871), there were many different battles fought on Canadian soil.

The majority of the battles this time, however, were not between Britain and other countries, but between Britain and what is now the United States of America. The American Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783) and the American Civil War (1863 - 1869) are two examples.

Canada had a major influx of people, known as United Empire Loyalists and Black Loyalists, who fought on the British side in the American Revolutionary War. Also, some German soldiers who fought for the British chose to remain in Canada. See my page The American Revolutionary War: Fighting for the British for more details.

As a result of this War, not one but two nations were forged: one intent on independence from Britain, and the other seeking to remain loyal to the British king and to remain part of the British Empire.

A further wave of immigration occurred after the American Civil War.

Huron X Guns. Royal Military College of Canada.
Creative Commons licence, Wikimedia Commons

Between these two Wars, there was a perceived need to defend Canada's borders from invading American forces. Military installations were placed at strategic points all along the St. Lawrence Seaway, which in some locations is quite narrow. American forces did the same along their side of the Seaway.

In the course of defending Canada's border, the British therefore generated and maintained extensive documentation of their military presence in Canada. Again, the LAC has obtained copies of the British records pertaining to Canada, as outlined in my page on the period of British rule for more information.

After Canada became a nation in 1867, the British felt that the new nation should defend its own borders. The last British troops pulled out in 1871. Any military records generated between 1871 and the present, therefore, were "home grown" - produced by Canadians, with the exception of some World War I records generated by the British. See my page about Canada and World Wars I and II for more details.

Sources of Canadian Military Documents outside the LAC

You will note that most of the sources cited on the Canadian Military Records pages are within the LAC. While these are excellent resources, there are also many other great free resources related to the Canadian military and other documentation related to Canadians who had done military service.

The following websites contain additional information, some of it simply background, and some of it relevant for genealogical purposes, with respect to free Canadian military documents:

I hope that you find these resources of assistance to you in researching Canadian military records. The best of luck with your research!

Go to 'Canadian Military Records: New France'

Go to 'Canadian Military Records: British Rule'

Go to 'The American Revolutionary War: Fighting for the British'

Go to 'Canadian Military Documents: World Wars I and II'

Go to FamilyHistoryAlive home page

New! Comments Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.

What's New?
is now on Facebook! For daily updates
and the latest
in genealogy news,
as well as reminders re upcoming webinars,

Join us on Facebook!

Looking for genealogy-themed t-shirts, mugs, iPad cases, and giftware? Click on the links in the widget for more information!

Upcoming Webinars

Click here for upcoming webinars, courtesy of Geneawebinars.

Heard the buzz about the new Flip-Pal scanner? See my review, here, or click on the ad, below, to go directly to their website.

Looking into DNA testing for genealogy purposes

Try 23andMe, or FTDNA (click the links below).