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British Forces

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The British government stationed British Army regiments in Canada for its defence from the close of the Seven Years' War (1763) until 1871. Generally, these forces were garrisoned in fortifications such as those found in Quebec, Kingston and Halifax and could be augmented from time to time by reinforcements from Britain in response to war scares, rebellion and war itself. As well, a permanent fleet base was maintained in Halifax for the Royal Navy.

In the late 1860s, the British government decided that as colonial governments were now responsible for governing their own territory, they should also be responsible for their own defence.

By 1871, all British garrisons had been removed, either returning to Britain or sent to duty in other Imperial outposts. Their places were taken by a new Canadian Permanent Force, at first composed of only two batteries of artillery, and later expanded to include other elements such as cavalry and infantry. These were to be supplemented by militia units in emergencies.

Research at Library and Archives Canada

British military and naval records up to and including the First World War are in the custody of the National Archives in England, formerly known as the Public Record Office (PRO), in the War Office and Admiralty series.

Library and Archives Canada has acquired copies of some of those records relating to regiments that served in Canada. Note that the War Office 97 and War Office 25 series include volumes relating to the Swiss-raised regiments that served under British command during the War of 1812. The de Watteville and de Meuron Regiments included men from Germany, Poland, France and other European countries.

Descriptions of all the War Office records (MG 13 WO) and Admiralty records (MG 12 ADM) in our custody can be found in the General Inventory database.

The War Office series of particular interest to genealogists are:

You can search the ARCHIVED - General Inventory database for other records. Select Private records

Keywords: name of an individual or a regiment, e.g. "Royal Artillery" "60th Regiment"

British Military and Naval Records (RG 8, C Series)

This series covers the period from the American Revolution to the mid-1800s. It includes a wide range of documents relating to the British Army in Canada, Loyalist regiments, the War of 1812, the Canadian militia, etc. A nominal/subject card index and the actual records are available on microfilm. References located in the index provide a brief description of the document, date, C Series volume number and a page number. After consulting the index, refer to the list of microfilm reel numbers for the actual records.

Microfilm Reel Numbers for Index
(arranged alphabetically)

Microfilm Reel Numbers for Records
(arranged by volume number)

Return of parties of the 34th Regiment sent in search of deserters on the 12th May 1839. Library and Archives Canada, RG 8 I, vol. 895, p. 10, bobine no C-3276


Return of parties of the 34th
Regiment sent in search of
deserters on the 12th May 1839.
Library and Archives Canada,
RG 8 I, vol. 895, p. 10, reel C-3276.

Request to retire by sale of commission, Toronto, 15 March 1841.  Library and Archives Canada, RG 8 I, vol. 895, p. 112, reel C-3276


Request to retire by sale of
commission, Toronto,
15 March 1841.
Library and Archives Canada,
RG 8 I, vol. 895, p. 112,
reel C-3276.


Canada General Service Medal Registers

Members of British regiments that served during the Fenian Raids were awarded the Canada General Service Medal.

Research in Other Institutions

Records relating to British Forces up to and including the First World War are in the custody of the National Archives in England (formerly the Public Record Office). Consult their Web site for information about their holdings and services. Use their Family History Military Guide [] to identify military records of interest to you.

Research Online

Royal Navy: Registers of Seamen's Services (1853 to 1923)

British Regiments in Canada

Use AVITUS to find other Web sites about British Forces in Canada.

Research in Published Sources

The British government published lists of officers on a regular basis. Search in AMICUS, under Subject browse, using the following terms:

  • Great Britain - - Army Registers; and
  • Great Britain - - Navy Registers.

Consult our Bibliography for further information on this topic.

Related Topics


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