The Canadian Crown and the Canadian Forces: Wikis


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The emblem of the Canadian Forces topped by a St. Edward's Crown to indicate from where the military's authority stems.

The place of the Canadian Crown in relation to the Canadian Forces is both constitutional and ceremonial, the sovereign of Canada being the supreme commander of the forces, while he or she and the rest of the Canadian Royal Family hold honorary positions in various branches and regiments, embodying the historical relationship of the Crown to its militia. This modern construct stems from Canada's origins as a colony of the United Kingdom and France, through 200 years of associations with the Royal family, and is today evidenced through royal symbolism, such as crowns on military badges and coats of arms, as well as the bestowing of a royal prefix.


Role in command

The role of the Canadian Crown in the Canadian Forces is established through both constitutional and statutory law; the National Defence Act states that "the Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada,"[1] and the Constitution Act, 1867, vests Command-in-Chief of those forces in the sovereign[2][3][4] – presently Queen Elizabeth II – though, the sovereign's representative, the Governor General of Canada carries out the duties and bears the title of that position on the monarch's behalf.[5] This arrangement is maintained to ensure that "the military is an agent for and not a master of the state."[6] Since Canadian Confederation, three members of the Royal Family have been titled as Commander-in-Chief: The Duke of Argyll (1871 – 1883), Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1911 – 1916), and The Earl of Athlone (1940 – 1946).[7]

The emblem of the Royal 22e Régiment at the Citadelle of Quebec, with a St. Edward's Crown indicating the sovereign's place as commander.

I am very glad of this opportunity of being with you once again... I know that to many of you these months of waiting have seemed very long, and that your thoughts must often have turned to your homes, and to your wives and families whom you have left in Canada. I know too how much your dear ones must be praying for you, and how they are thinking with pride of the part that you have been called upon to play in guarding these shores.[8]

Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, address to
the Saskatoon Light Infantry, 24 October 1941

With the monarch at the head of the Canadian Forces, all authority related to and within the military stems from the Crown; declarations of war, the mobilisation of troops,[9] and the organisation of the forces all fall within the Royal Prerogative, and the monarch issues letters patent, known as the Queen's Commission, to create officers between the rank of Second Lieutenant and General in the Land Force Command and Air Command and between Acting Sub-Lieutenant and Admiral in the Maritime Command.[10] Further, all regulations for the Canadian Forces are set out by the sovereign in the Queen's Regulations and Orders. As such, all new recruits into the military, navy, and air force are required to recite the Oath of Allegiance to the monarch and his or her heirs and successors, and, according to the National Defence Act, the uttering of disloyal words towards the reigning King or Queen is considered treasonous and "disgraceful conduct"; Such offences may be punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.[11] Neither the monarch nor the viceroy, however, involve themselves in direct military command; per constitutional convention, both must almost always exercise the Royal Prerogative on the advice of the Cabinet, though they do retain the right to unilaterally use those powers in crisis situations.[n 1][12][13][14][15][16][17]

Symbolism and traditions

The Canadian Forces have derived many of their traditions and symbols from the military, navy and air force of the United Kingdom, including those with royal elements. Contemporary icons and rituals, however, have evolved to include elements reflective of Canada and the Canadian monarchy. Members of the country's Royal Family also continue their two century old practice of maintaining personal relationships with the forces' divisions and regiments,[7] around which the military has developed complex protocols.


Honorary commands

Members of the Royal Family are regularly appointed by the monarch, or the monarch will appoint him or herself, as an honorary commander of an army regiment or air force or navy branch; a practice that originated with the first regiments of the Canadian army, and was instituted to reinforce a regiment's loyalty to the Crown via a personal relationship with a member of the Royal Family.[18] Though non-royals have been appointed as Colonels-in-Chief, the practice is rare, and the placement of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson as Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry caused some controversy as a break with tradition.[19] Acting as a patron of sorts, the titles conferred include Colonel-in-Chief, Captain General, Commodore-in-Chief, Admiral, and others. and the holders will carry out a number of associated duties, such as attending regimental dinners, presenting new colours, trooping the colour, and field training exercises. Attendance and participation in these events may be at the direction of the Ministers of the Crown, or the regiment itself.

Many regiments of the Land Force Command have also been granted the use of the prefix royal in the regiment's name, while others bear the name of a member of the Royal Family.

Ceremonies and honours

See also: Commonwealth Units to have mounted the King's/Queen's Guard

Ceremony forms a key party of the Canadian Forces, and many rituals have a royal connection. For example, the military will traditionally mount what is known as the Queen's Guard (or King's Guard during the reign of a male monarch), which is made up of contingents of infantry and cavalry soldiers who are charged with guarding the royal residences in Canada and the United Kingdom. Canada has mounted the King's/Queen's Guard eight times since 1916, including Coronation Contingents for King George VI in May 1937 and for Queen Elizabeth II in May 1953. Other military ceremonies will have a member of the Royal Family present, such as at Trooping the Colours, inspections of the troops, and anniversaries of key battles. Whenever the sovereign or a member of her family is in Ottawa, they will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial, which itself was dedicated in 1939 by King George VI, and will do the same if at a Canadian war monument overseas.

The South-West Asia Service Medal, with the effigy of Queen Elizabeth II, denoting the monarch's place as fount of honour.

A number of honours available to members of the forces also have a link to the Crown, foremost because the Queen is viewed as the fount of honour;[20][21] her effigy or a St. Edward's Crown thus appear on the insignia of orders or on medals. Some honours and decorations are also granted to civilians, but a few are specifically awarded by the sovereign to her Canadian Forces personnel; these are: the Order of Military Merit; the Victoria Cross (named for its founder, Queen Victoria), Star of Military Valour, and Medal of Military Valour; the military divisions of the Meritorious Service Cross and Meritorious Service Medal; and the war and operational service medals. Further, injury or death in action is recognised by the Sacrifice Medal and Memorial Cross, while acts of bravery or diligence on the battlefield are recognised by field commander reports to the sovereign, known as Mentioned in Despatches.[22]


King George VI presents the King's Colours to the Royal Canadian Navy at a ceremony in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, in 1939.
The Queen Mother's Royal Banner, presented to the Canadian Forces Medical Service in 1982; the pike head bears the crest of the Royal Arms of Canada.

A number of flags and banners are used by the Canadian Forces to signify loyalty, nationality, departments, and/or specific events. One used throughout the military is the Royal Union Flag, an official Canadian flag, which is displayed at formal ceremonies and must be flown by Canadian navy ships, when arrangements allow, while in Canadian waters as a display of allegiance to the Crown.[23]

More specifically, unique Queen's Colours are presented to various regiments and departments to evoke the unit's loyalty to the Crown; mostly, these consist of the national flag defaced with the regiment's or department's insignia or the sovereign's Royal Cypher in the centre, reflecting the custom established for infantry line regiments in the mid 18th century. Others, though, are more distinct; the Queen's Colour of the Maritime Command is a variation of the Canadian Naval Jack, being a white banner with the national in the canton, the Royal Cipher in the centre, and the symbol of the navy in the lower fly, while the Queen's Colour of the Air Command is similar to those of infantry regiments, consisting of a silk national flag with a red circlet on the maple leaf inscribed with the name of the command, surrounding the Royal Cipher, and ensigned with the Royal Crown. Authorisation to possess a Queen's Colour may only be granted, and the Colour presented, by the Queen or the Governor General,[24] and the colours must be dipped in the presence of the monarch or other members of the Royal Family.

Similarly, those in the Royal Family may present to a regiment a Royal Banner to commemorate specific services rendered and as a mark of royal favour. For example, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) received a Royal Banner from King Edward VII for their combat in South Africa, and The Queen Mother presented the Canadian Forces Medical Service with a Royal Banner in 1985.[25]

Other flags that are held by an individual also bear royal symbols. The Queen's Harbourmaster, who is in charge of Canadian navy ship yards, is accorded a flag that consists of a white-bordered national flag defaced in the centre with a white disc bearing a crown and the acronym QHM/CPSM, for Queen's Harbour Master/Capitaine de port de Sa Majesté.[26]

The finial capping the tip of a flag pole carrying the Queen's Canadian standard, Governor General's standard, Queen's Colours, or other royal banners must be in the form of the crest of the Royal Arms of Canada.[27]


Buildings, installations, and geographical features related to the Canadian Forces or Department of National Defence can only be named for living or deceased members of the Canadian Royal Family, living or deceased former Governors General, and deceased distinguished persons.[28]

All Canadian naval ships are designated with the prefix Her Majesty's Canadian Ship (His Majesty's Canadian Ship in the reign of a king), or HMCS. These vessels must dress – be decorated with signal flags – for specific royal occasions, including Accession Day (6 February), the actual birthday of the monarch (presently 21 April), the official birthday of the monarch (24 May), and the birthday of the Royal Consort (10 June).[29]

Crests and badges

The slip-on worn by Cadet Chief Warrant Officers, bearing the Royal Arms of Canada.

To signify the sovereign's place at the head of the Canadian Forces, many badges include a crown in their design. Originally designed by the British King of Arms, since 1968 they have been created by the Department of National Defence and then the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Each primary badge of a branch, formation, or unit must be approved by the Governor General as titular Commander-in-Chief, since the monarch designated approval of new badges to the Governor General in the mid-1980s, though permission for use of royal titles and personal symbols such as the Crown must be personally approved by the sovereign.[30] The Queen's Canadian Arms and her Royal Cypher are also displayed throughout the forces, including on banners, badges, and military band instruments.


Ceremonies and rank structures within the forces rely on an order of precedence for organising participants and according respect and honours. In the order of precedence, which is the only one used in relation to the military, the monarch takes first place, followed by the Governor General, and then other members of the Royal Family. The provincial viceroys fall in at sixteenth on the list, behind the leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.[31]

The Royal Anthem of Canada, "God Save the Queen," must be played after the giving of the Loyal Toast, which is required at all formal messes, and toasts the health of the monarch.[32] Members and officers are required to stand during the toast, and salute for the Royal Anthem; the latter requirement was challenged by Captain Aralt Mac Giolla Chainnigh (formerly Harold Kenny), an officer of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and a professor at the Royal Military College, who called the policy "degrading". Channigh was ultimately unsuccessful, being rebuked by the Canadian Forces Grievance Board, Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier, and the Federal Court of Canada[33].


Colonies & Confederation

As European colonization of the Americas took place, the European explorers regarded some newly contacted indigenous chieftainships as a form of monarchy,[34][35][36] wherein warriors were under the command of a hereditary chief. However, though they may have been the holders of power, all chiefs were not necessarily free to mobilise troops without the consent of a council of elders, similar to the situation in a modern constitutional monarchy; for example, in the Cherokee nation, the approval of the council of women was required before war could be declared.

As the colonial population increased, those loyal to the Crown served as regular members of local militia groups under the command of the relevant governor, who exercised the authority of either the French or British monarch. Until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, these groups would fight alongside First Nations who had offered their allegiance to the King back in Europe, often in order to wage war on their own enemy tribes who had allied themselves with the other sovereign. Once King Louis XV surrendered his Canadian territories, members of the British Royal Family began to serve in military postings in the colonies; from 1786 to 1887, Prince William Henry (later King William IV) ventured to Canada's east coast as captain of HMS Pegasus in a Royal Navy contingent,[7] and his younger brother, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, was posted with the British Army to Halifax, where he acted as Commander-in-Chief, North America between 1791 and 1798 and again from 1799 to 1800.[7] During this period, at the end of the 18th into the beginning of the 19th centuries, the local militia were called upon to augment the British sovereign's forces in defending the colonies against attacks – such as those in 1775 and 1812 – from the United States, which viewed the nearby monarchical presence as a threat to American republican ideologies.

Following the formation of the Canadian federation in 1867, a proper military was formed for the new country. This new group was joined three years later by Prince Arthur, who became the first royal to fight for Canada when the Fenians attempted to invade the country; for his service, the Prince was awarded the Canadian General Service Medal with the Fenian Raid 1870 bar.[7] By 1874, the Royal Military College of Canada was established, with Queen Victoria's consent for the use of the royal prefix granted in 1878; and her grandson, King George V gave the same permission for the Royal Canadian Navy when it was created in 1911, as did his son, King Edward VII, for the Royal Canadian Air Force six years after it was established in 1918. It was in the new Canadian navy that a young Prince Albert (later King George VI) served as a midshipman for the duration of 1913.[7]

The World Wars and between

Canada came to be at war when in 1914 King George V declared that the British Empire was at war with its German counterpart. At the time, Canada had in Ottawa a royal viceroy in the form of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn; though well intended, the Prince donned his Field Marshal's uniform and, without ministerial advice, went to military training grounds and barracks to address the troops and see them off on their voyage to Europe. This was much to the chagrin of the Prime Minister at the time, Robert Borden, who saw the Governor General as overstepping constitutional conventions.[37] Though Borden blamed the Military Secretary of the day, Edward Stanton, he also opined that Prince Arthur "laboured under the handicap of his position as a member of the Royal Family and never realised his limitations as Governor General."[38] Arthur's wife, Princess Louise Margaret, Duchess of Connaught, also helped in the war effort, forming volunteer groups to make supplies for Canadian soldiers overseas; for Christmas in 1915, she sent a card and a box of maple sugar to every Canadian serving in Europe, and she had a knitting machine installed at Rideau Hall, on which she made thousands of pairs of socks for soldiers. Princess Patricia, the Connaught's daughter, became so active with the military that Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was in 1914 named in her honour; the Princess personally chose the infantry's colours, designed its badge, and was appointed as its Colonel-in-Chief at the cessation of hostilities in 1918.

King George VI dedicates the National War Memorial in Ottawa, 1939.
The Toronto Scottish Regiment mounting the King's Guard at Buckingham Palace, in front of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, April 1940.

Across the Atlantic, Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) was serving on the Western Front with the Canadian Expeditionary Corps,[39] his participation in the fighting establishing a popularity among veterans during the Prince's latter tours of Canada as Prince of Wales.[7] By 1936, Edward, as king, had taken up ceremonial military tasks, and became the first Canadian sovereign to do so solely on behalf of Canada when he dedicated the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.[40] Following Edward's abdication that same year, his brother acceded to the throne as George VI; for his coronation in the summer of 1937, the Canadian Coronation Contingent was formed and sent to London. Two year later, the King presided over a number of military ceremonies in Canada, including dedicating the National War Memorial in Ottawa, and presenting colours to regiments. By the end of that summer, however, the King had declared war on Nazi Germany; unlike his father, George did this uniquely as King of Canada, a week after he had done so as King of the United Kingdom.

To train troops and officers, the Royal Roads Military College was established in British Columbia, just outside Vancouver, in the house that had been purchased as a wartime residence for the King, Queen, and their daughters. Though the family remained in London, they were still active in relation to Canada's troops; Queen Elizabeth inspected the 1st Battalion of the Saskatoon Light Infantry in April 1940,[41] and the following year presented the unit with gifts of socks, mittens, caps, pullovers, scarves, and helmets,[42] as well as the unit's colours in October.[43] Her daughter, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II), also undertook solo duties, such as reviewing a parade of Canadian airwomen in 1945. Two years following, the Princess was appointed by her father as Colonel-in-Chief of both Le Régiment de la Chaudière and the 48th Highlanders of Canada, her first appointments in the Canadian Forces.[44] Other members of the Royal Family performed military duties in Canada during the war: Prince George, Duke of Kent, did so in Manitoba in 1941,[45] and the King's first cousin once removed, Princess Alice, who was then serving as the Canadian viceregal consort to the Governor General of Canada, was installed as Honorary Commandant of a number of women's military services.

A new queen and new forces

In a time of austerity following the Second World War, the Coronation Contingent was again mounted to participate in the 1953 coronation of Canada's new sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. Not only did the forces now have a new Commander-in-Chief, but the post-war period saw major shifts in the structure of the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force; by 1968, the unification of all three into the Canadian Forces took effect at the recommendation of then Defence Minister, Paul Hellyer, over the protests of many senior generals, admirals, and air marshalls.[46] Though the National Defence Act, which unified the services, said "[t]he Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada," the royal prefix was not bestowed upon the new unified militia, and a number of royally designated corps were lost into newly designated services and branches; for example, the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps and the Royal Canadian Dental Corps became the Canadian Forces Medical Service and Canadian Forces Dental Service, respectively, and the Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps amalgamated with the supply and transport services of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps to become the Logistics Branch. Not all the forces' links with the Crown, however, were lost; many of the regiments did retain their royal prefix, members of the Royal Family as their Colonel-in-Chief, and crowns on their badges and other insignia.

Over the ensuing years, Canada adopted peacekeeping as its primary function, with the role of the royals and viceroys turning more towards observation and interaction, rather than morale boosting. These individuals, as Colonels-in-Chief, visited with forces personnel either in Canada or abroad, undertook various duties on behalf of the organization, and dedicated armed conflict and military memorials. During this period, Prince Charles, like other Princes of Wales before him, trained with the Canadian Forces at CFB Gagetown in the 1970s,[7] and his father's cousin, The Countess Mountbatten of Burma, as Colonel-in-Chief of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, visited with her troops on more than 45 occasions, at Canadian Forces bases and detachments across the country as well as overseas in Cyprus, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.[47] Later, in 1996, Queen Elizabeth II innagurated the Canadian War Memorial in Green Park, London, just outside of Buckingham Palace.

Beyond peacekeeping

With Canada's participation in the invasion of Afghanistan, and a number of casualties of that conflict, the forces came more into the public eye than it had been trough the previous two decades. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson won communal praise for boosting Canadians' pride in the armed forces, spending Christmasses and New Years with forces personnel in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf, and earning herself a special tribute from the Canadian Forces upon her retirement from the Queen's service in 2005.[48] This was the same year that saw the 60th anniversary of D-Day commemorated at Juno Beach, in the presence of the Queen, Clarkson, and Prince Charles. Also, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, visited with the Saskatchewan Dragoons, of which he is Colonel-in-Chief, in Belgium, where in 2007 the Queen attended the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele.[49] In April of that year, the Queen marked another major military anniversary when she re-dedicated the Canadian Vimy Memorial on the 90th anniversary of the battle it commemorates, following in the footsteps of her uncle, King Edward VIII. She was accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who was dressed in the uniform of the Royal Canadian Regiment, which both fought at Vimy Ridge and had just the day previous lost six members during combat operations in Afghanistan.

On 17 May 2007, an online petition, sponsored by Member of Parliament Laurie Hawn,[50] was issued seeking grassroots support for the Maritime Command and Air Command to be renamed as the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force, respectively, for the navy's 100th anniversary in 2010;[51] since the royal designation was originally granted by Royal Proclamations that have never been revoked, if the terms Canadian Navy and Canadian Air Force were to ever again be used in an official capacity, they would be required to have the word royal preceding them. Also in 2007, the Collège militaire royal (CMR) in St-Jean Sur Richelieu (first opened in 1952 as a bilingual educational institution under the jurisdiction of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and then closed in 1995 due to cuts to the Department of National Defence's operating budget) was reopened to handle an influx of new recruits. And, by June of that year, it was reported that Prince Henry, then third in line to the Canadian throne, had arrived in Alberta to train, along with other soldiers of the Canadian and British armies, at CFB Suffield, near Medicie Hat, before a tour of duty in Afghanistan.[52][53] At the same time, Harry's aunt, the Princess Royal, was in Saskatchewan undertaking duties as Colonel-in-Chief of The Royal Regina Rifles, marking their centennial, as well as to open the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Heritage Centre.[54]

In November 2009, Harry's father, Prince Charles, officiated at the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National War Memorial in Ottawa,[55] and in early March of the following year, The Princess Royal visited with Canadian troops at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan,[56] as Prince Andrew, Duke of York, had done in 2008, when he presented colours to and lunched with the Royal Highland Fusiliers in Lashkar Gah.[57][58]

See also



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