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CHAPTER 5: The Compagnies Franches de la Marine of Canada

Militia Weapons (1 page)


No firearms were handed out to militiamen because they were expected to have their own. However, governors never ceased complaining that the habitants lacked them. By 1684, militiamen were being loaned muskets. Some 60 years later, in 1747, according to a report of the intendant and governor general, little had changed: about a third of militiamen did not have muskets. This seems rather curious, in view of the fact that Canadians had a reputation for being excellent shots. Had not the Scandinavian man of science, Pehr Kalm, noted when visiting Canada in 1749 that "all the people born in Canada [were] the best marksmen in existence and rarely miss[ed]"? He further noted that "there [was] not one of them who [was] unable to shoot remarkably well and [did] not possess a musket." [61]

This apparent contradiction can be explained in two ways. First, militiamen from the cities were certainly less likely to own firearms than those from the countryside. By the eighteenth century, game had become rare around the town of Quebec, for example, so that one out of four or five men eligible for the militia did not have firearms, simply because they had no use for them. Second, Canadians and the authorities were obviously playing a little game of hide and seek. Muskets were expensive. In order to obtain a new one without having to spend a lot of money, one could hide the old one or present himself for service armed with a musket so bad that the authorities were obliged to provide another. The authorities showed a certain complicity in this regard. They knew that many men did not have firearms because they had traded them for furs, a practice that was roundly condemned. However, apart from the traditional recriminations of government accountants, the governors general were not unhappy to see this excellent militia armed with new muskets.

The firearm which Canadian militiamen preferred using was the solid and light hunting musket with no bayonet, made at Tulle in central France. It fired 14 mm balls. This calibre was somewhat small for warfare, but that drawback was offset by the shooting accuracy of the Canadians who were very familiar with this weapon. In addition, militiamen carried hatchets and often several knives, one sheathed at the waist, one in the leggings band, and a third hanging on a thong around the neck.