Artillery in Canada: Jacques Cartier, 1534

Canadian Artillery History

On 20 April 1534, Jacques Cartier set sail from St. Malo in Brittany with 2 ships and 61 men.  He had been commissioned by King François of France to search for a passage to Cathay (the Orient), either around or through the New World.  If no route could be found, then Cartier was to seek out riches, especially gold, as the Spanish had found in South America.

Jacques Cartier's ship Le Grand Hermine, French postage stamp, issued 23 June 2008.

On 7 July 1534, as Cartier was sailing past Baie de Chaleur, he encountered a fleet of 50 canoes filled with Micmac Natives.  The Natives seemed excited to see them and their celebrations aboard the canoes helped to assure Cartier that they wished only to be friendly with the new-comers.  With some reservation and hesitation, Cartier met with the leader of the group.  Small items were exchanged in friendship which would be historically recorded as the first trading action between Europeans and the Natives of the New World.  However, when the other canoes began to approach the ship with unknown intent, Cartier had two cannon shots fired to scare them away.  This is the first recorded use of artillery in the New World.

Many of the units and batteries of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery (RRCA) are older than the Dominion of Canada itself.  The first artillery company in Canada was formed in the province of Canada (New France) in 1750.

Volunteer Canadian artillery batteries existed before 1855 but their history is mostly unknown.  Seven batteries of artillery were formed after the passage of the Militia Act of 1855, which allowed Canada to retain a paid military force of 5,000 men.  One of the pre-1855 volunteer batteries formed in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1793 was called the “Loyal Company of Artillery” and exists today as the 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, RCA.

After Confederation

On 20 October 1871, the first regular Canadian army units were created, in the form of two batteries of garrison artillery; thus, that date is considered the regiment's birthday.  "A" Battery in Kingston, Ontario, and "B" Battery in Quebec City, Quebec, became gunnery schools and performed garrison duties in their respective towns.  They are still active today as part of the 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.

The Royal Canadian Artillery has participated in every major conflict in Canada's history.

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