Canadian Military Records:
British Forces in Canada (1763 - 1871)

As noted in the page Canadian Military Records - New France, from the 1600s to 1763, most military records that existed in written in French, as Canada was then a French colony.

By the end of the Seven Year War, Britain had control of the former French colonies in eastern Canada. The British provided troops to Canada for its defence, from 1763 to 1871.

Canada's troops also fought in World War I as part of the British Commonwealth.

This page covers the time period from 1763 to World War I.

Any Canadian military records generated during this period were under British control, and were catalogued and archived in Britain.

The British set up military installations all along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, to protect the Canadian border from US attack or invasion. The army troops lived in barracks, such as those found at Old Fort Henry (Kingston).

I recall visiting Fort Wellington, located just outside Prescott, Ontario, along the Saint Lawrence River, and noting that, in addition to the single cots on the third floor for the enlisted men, there was a section for married soldiers on the second floor. The tour guide indicated that a certain number of soldiers were allowed to bring their wives with them.

The quarters were very basic, with about 10 beds lined up in a row along the wall. Each couple had one bed, one chest at the foot of the bed, and a shelf at the head of the bed. Curtains could be drawn around the bed for privacy. Any children were expected to sleep … under the bed!!!

There was also a permanent base for the Royal Navy at Halifax, Nova Scotia, with similar facilities for the navy men.

Fort Wellington Blockhouse and Latrine.
The second floor of the Blockhouse
is where the married quarters were located.
Wikimedia Commons

(a) Canadian Military Records: The American War of Independence

Shortly after the 1763 Treaty of Paris was signed, things began to deteriorate in the British colonies in what is now the United States. The colonists rebelled against a new British statute requiring them to pay taxes to Britain. (Remember the Boston Tea Party??) Britain countered that it had the right to tax them as British subjects. The colonists took the position that if they were paying taxes, they should have representation in the British Parliament.

Tensions escalated, and war eventually broke out between Britain and the U.S. over this issue. The American War of Independence, also known as the Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783, was the result.

The British used Canada both as their ‘home territory’, which needed to be defended against American attacks, and as a ‘launching pad’ for strikes against the Americans.

The Boston Tea Party. Original by Cooper.
Wikimedia Commons

With the assistance of France and Spain and of the Dutch Republic, all of which had territories and/or colonies in North America, the Americans eventually were able to defeat the British, and gain their independence.

(b) Canadian Military Records after Confederation – 1867 to World War I

After Canadian confederation in 1867, the British took the position that, since Canada was now a nation in its own right, it should be responsible for its own defence. By 1871, therefore, it had withdrawn all of its military personnel from Canada.

Uniform of the
2nd Canadian Regiment
in the American Revolutionary War
Wikimedia Commons

Canada implemented a Canadian-led military system, called the Canadian Permanent Force, which could be supplemented by a militia in emergency situations. The militia troops, formed at the county level, already existed, having been established when the British troops were present, to assist when extra hands were needed to defend the nation’s borders.

This time period therefore marks the first time that Canadians had their own military. However, other than militia lists (local militia were required to muster once a year) and payrolls, no Canadian military records were kept until World War I. As such, there is very little of interest to a genealogist in this documentation.

Despite Canada's purported independence in the military defence arena, its troops fought under the British flag in World War I, as part of the Commonwealth.

(c) Available Canadian Military Records: 1763 - World War I

Any Canadian military records - by which I mean, records pertaining to British troops in Canada - from 1763 up to and including the First World War are housed in the UK’s National Archives, in the “War Office and Admiralty” series. Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has obtained copies of all records relating to Canada.

According to the LAC, the following are the War Office series of most interest to genealogists:

  • War Office 97: Royal Hospital Chelsea Soldiers' Documents (MG 13 WO97), 1760-1872;
  • War Office 120: Royal Hospital Chelsea Regimental Registers (MG 13 WO120), 1713-1868;
    • 1713 – 1868 – registers of pensioners, arranged by regiment.
    • after 1812 – some death dates recorded.
    • up to 1843 - age, place of birth and particulars of service and discharge;
    • after 1843 – less information was recorded. All that is available is the date the pension was awarded, the rate of pension, and the district where the pension was received.
  • War Office 25: Registers Various (MG 13 WO25), 1756-1878;
    • includes Description and Succession Books, Returns of Officers' Services, Casualty Returns and Regimental entry books.
    • Regimental entry books provide names of enlisted men, age, place of birth, trade, and years of service
    • also includes some Returns of Officers' Services in the Royal Engineers up to the mid-1900s.
  • War Office 67: Depot Description Books (MG 13 WO67), 1803-1892
    • registers of non-commissioned officers and enlisted men
    • include details such as name, age, place of birth, trade and promotions.
  • War Office 42: Certificates of Births, etc. (M13 13 WO42), 1775-1908;
    • Pension claims submitted by widows of officers of the King's German Legion and British American Regiments, who died in service or while on half-pay.
    • Files include copies of wills, birth certificates and personal papers, etc.
  • War Office 12: Muster Books and Pay Lists (MG 13 WO12), 1759-1767
    • series includes muster rolls for the following regiments serving in British North America: 15th, 22nd, 27th, 28th, 35th, 43rd, 47th, 48th, 58th and 60th.
    • available on microfilm
    • incomplete for some years

Go to 'Canadian Military Records: New France"

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

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

Go to 'Canadian Military Documents: An Introduction'

Go to Family History Alive Home Page

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