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Sir Hughes: Always a Militia Man

For the week of Monday, September 14, 2015

On September 21, 1911, Sir Robert Borden’s Conservative Party won the federal election, bringing with it a host of talented politicians, including soon-to-be Minister of Militia and Defence Sam Hughes. During the First World War, Hughes raised a distinctly Canadian army: the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Major General Sir Sam Hughes arriving in France at Boulogne
© Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-022661

As early as 1866, Hughes joined the 45th Battalion of Infantry in Durham County, Upper Canada, and was a member of the militia for over 50 years. In the South African Boer War of 1899-1902, Hughes led a small force of militiamen (reserve troops whose primary occupation was not military). Due to his extensive experience, he was appointed Minister of Militia and Defence in October 1911. As minister, he built up the militia, and improved training, equipment and facilities.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Canada had few permanent soldiers. So, in keeping with his belief that ordinary people formed the backbone of the empire, Hughes sent out a call to all able-bodied men, many of them with no fighting experience at all, to create the formidable Canadian Expeditionary Force.

Lieutenant General Sir Sam Hughes, K.C.B., M.P.
© Canadian War Museum / Beaverbrook Collection of War Art / Harrington Mann / CWM 19710261-0394

Though he raised and organized Canada’s armed forces, Hughes came to frustrate other military leaders. He supported the Canadian-made Ross rifle even though it often jammed. He gave military positions and contracts to his friends, among other conflicts of interest. These ultimately led to his resignation in November 1916. It cannot be denied, however, that Hughes helped to build a distinctly Canadian Army. Before him, authorities had been reluctant to pay for a permanent army in Canada, even though military units had been active in the defense of Canada, and in various armed conflicts elsewhere in the British Empire.

For his military and political career, Sir Samuel Hughes is a National Historic Person. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

To learn more about Canada’s contributions to the First World War, please read Canada Joins the Great War, August 1914: Canada Prepares for War, The Princess Pat's: A Privately Funded Army, Building Bridges in the First World War, Canadian Japanese Volunteer Corps Founded, and The Canadian Military Reaches New Heights in the This Week in History archives.

Follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada. Also, click here to learn about the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

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