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CHAPTER 2: Threats Internal and External

The 9th Battalion in the North-West Campaign (1 page)


A number of battalions have testified in one way or another about their role in the North-West Campaign. The 9th of Quebec City was typical of these battalions. The unit was commanded by Guillaume Amyot. His entourage consisted mainly of French Canadians whose compatriots were opposed to the fight against Louis Riel's Métis.

The battalion's mobilization order was received on 31 March. By 2 April its 236 men, including 28 officers, were ready to leave. Yet between 13 and 25 March the 9th Battalion had trained with 22 officers and 336 men. Political views and educational and job commitments had deprived the battalion of approximately one hundred militiamen who would not be accompanying it on its way west. Its officer ranks, however, were swelled by the arrival of the scions of the aristocracy: At the last minute, they had been joined by the sons of judge Adolphe Routhier, MLA Joseph Sheyn and MP P-B. Casgrain, and by two sons of Senator Jean-Baptiste Fiset. [27]

In a campaign journal he later published, Private Georges Beauregard alluded to the ambiguous situation of the French-Canadian soldier: "The government has decided to disrupt our quiet little lives to set us against Indians and Métis: It has its reasons, which have nothing to do with us, since we are not involved in politics and do not question the orders of the military authorities." [28] Meanwhile, the volunteers were reminded by a number of their acquaintances that they were going to "make war on our brothers, Frenchmen like ourselves." [29] This was not a very happy prospect, and the formation of a committee to help volunteers' families, itself made up of volunteers, served as a reminder that the army did very little for the men it sent into combat.

The trip west gave the men lots to think about. They were packed into rail cars that were sometimes open to the elements. Where the railway was unfinished, they were transferred into wagons; and north of Lake Superior they suffered the miseries of a spring that announced its arrival with heat, cold and frequent blizzards. [30] The 9th had not even seen combat when two of its privates succumbed to the hardships of the journey. One of them left a wife and several children whom the aid committee had to help before the government pension was paid, and even after the paltry sum was paid.

The 9th Battalion's basic assignment was to secure the lines of communication. Split up into small squads, the men were scattered between Calgary and Fort McLeod, their only shelter a tent that slept six. The battalion's 3rd and 4th companies took up positions at Gleichen, Crowfoot and Langdon along the Canadian Pacific Railway line. In this area they would have many encounters with Indians, whose abject misery they longed to ease. This humanitarian attitude prompted the historian Jean-Yves Gravel to compare, quite correctly, the role of this unit with the role that Canadian soldiers have been playing for more than 50 years as peacekeepers to the world. [31] Not surprisingly, after a month-long journey to reach Calgary and two months spent at isolated posts, not one 9th Battalion volunteer wanted to remain in garrison. The men in most of the other units were just as eager to return home.