Top: Former Toronto Mayor Philip Givens inspects a guard of honour of the Canadian Guards at city hall after the regiment returned from Cyprus in 1965. Above: The Guards in a trooping of the colours ceremony on Parliament Hill.
They are mostly old soldiers now, but they are not about to fade away anytime soon. With flags waving and colours flying, some former members of the Regiment of Canadian Guards will again be on the march this summer in Ottawa and Petawawa for a 50th reunion and anniversary celebration.
It will be a nostalgic gathering for the old soldiers, many of whom spent the most of their military career in the relatively short active-service life of the regiment.
The Regiment of Canadian Guards was officially added to the Canadian Army Order of Battle Oct. 16, 1953, adding a sixth infantry regiment to the army forces. Less than 17 years later, in July of 1970, the last unit–the 2nd Battalion in Petawawa–of what had become “Canada’s Regiment” was reduced to nil strength and removed from the battle order.
“It was a political decision,” says John Barclay of Ottawa, a former member of the guards who joined the regiment in 1955 and left as a captain in 1964. “The government claimed it was in a cash crunch.” Two other infantry regiments besides the Guards have also bitten the dust, the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada but continue to exist as militia units. Three Regular Force infantry regiments remain–The Royal Canadian Regiment, The Royal 22nd Regiment known as the Van Doos and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
But although the Regular Force component of the regiment had been deleted, its traditions were carried on by the Regiment of Canadian Guards Association, a small group of about 100 soldiers of all ranks that formed in late 1969. “In conjunction with the militia regiments–the Canadian Grenadier Guards of Montreal and the Governor General’s Foot Guards in Ottawa–the association has kept the regimental family together over the past 34 years,” said Barclay. “For the last four years now the association has more than 500 dues-paying members on its roster.”
Barclay said the regiment was originally raised to stand equal to the Scots Guards, Irish Guards and Welsh Guards in the so-called “British brigade of guards”, and it also gave the Canadian military an infantry regiment of guards it could call its own.
At the height of its strength, the regiment had four battalions, a depot and a regimental band. Two of the battalions, the 3rd in Valcartier, Que., and the 4th in Ipperwash, Ont., lasted only until the mid-50s before being reduced to nil strength and their soldiers dispersed into the 1st and 2nd battalions then stationed in Petawawa.
“Eventually about 9,000 trained at the Guards Depot, also in Petawawa,” said Barclay. The initial training staff at the depot took special training at the British Guards Depot in Pirbright, England. Bandsmen were recruited from other military bands, and from England and Holland.
The regiment initiated the Changing of the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill in full dress, and performed the Trooping of the Colours ceremony for the Queen and successive governors general. The regiment also provided over the years a Guard of Honour for visiting heads of state, including U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.
The regiment also distinguished itself militarily with tours of peacekeeping duties in Cyprus and in North Atlantic Treaty Organization exercises in Germany, Norway, the Caribbean and in Canada. A highlight of a three-year tour in Germany was winning the Prix LeClerc, the premier small arms competition in NATO. It was the only Canadian unit ever to do so. The guards association has attempted to perpetuate that legacy by establishing a museum at Petawawa, publishing a history called A Regiment Worthy Of Its Hire and by organizing a series of reunions.
The reunion this summer for the regiment’s 50th anniversary will be held at two sites over three days, from July 25 to July 27. The first two days of events will be in Ottawa. The reunion moves to Petawawa on the third day and the highlight of the weekend’s activities will be the unveiling of a regimental memorial cairn on a small knoll in the middle of what was once the regiment’s home station.