Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

CHAPTER 2: Threats Internal and External

An Assessment of the Campaign (2 pages)

A Lackluster Victory

Staff and patients, Moose Jaw field hospital, 1885

Staff and patients, Moose Jaw field hospital, 1885
(Click image to enlarge)

The Métis and their Indian allies were ill prepared and therefore incapable of measuring up to the military force quickly deployed against them. Despite some well-conducted battles and a few isolated victories, their chances of winning had been virtually nil from the start.

Though the government celebrated this military triumph, it was not unaware that its own indecisiveness had contributed to the tragedy that had just occurred. From the time of its initial reaction to the Métis uprising, Canada mobilized 8,000 men, 2,648 of whom were employed on logistics duties. Ontario provided 1,929 of these men, Quebec 1,012 and Nova Scotia 383. They were joined by 2,010 militiamen and 500 police and local civic guard members from the West. On 27 March, A and B batteries and the 65th Montreal Rifle Battalion, the first militia unit to be mobilized in this conflict, were called into combat. The following day saw the list of participating units grow longer, and soon every region of the country was represented. [23]

The minister, Sir Adolphe Caron, made every effort to institute a logistics and transportation system that relied almost exclusively on private enterprise. The Militias lack of preparation was apparently behind this solution, one in which patronage and politics were the best of bedfellows. The government had to foot a steep bill of $4.5 million, an enormous amount for the late 19th century.

Almost nothing had been done to prepare for such a campaign. The military medical and supply services were thrown together in four days. The variety of weapons issued was of no concern. Men left for war with Snider, Winchester and Martini-Henry carbines and rifles. Similarly, they carried three types of ammunition that had to be distributed, at times with difficulty, to units that were sometimes far apart. Some of this ammunition turned out to be unusable or non-existent; for example, General Strange reached Frenchman's Butte with only 22 artillery shells. Leadership was extremely weak, but Middleton would ascribe his slowness and procrastination to the inexperience of his subordinates; he had no confidence in them nor they in him. It was the general's view that he had prevented the Batoche engagement from ending in failure, but people could not forget that he had been unable to use his mounted forces or manoeuvre his troops, or that his timid approach was the cause of the lack of fighting spirit in his men.