The following is a brief summary of the Regiment’s history, from its inception to today.
The Regiment originated in response to the Louis Riel Rebellion in western Canada in early 1885. The people of Port Arthur and Fort William, eager to lend a hand in the conflict, prompted a banker, Mr. Samuel W. Ray of Port Arthur, to send a telegram to Ottawa, asking for permission to form a militia unit. The Minister of Militia responded as follows:
“I am disposed to authorize full company for the time that the present disturbance will last. They would have to provide their own equipments and arms, as we could not supply them till navigation opens.”
(n.b. at the time, the only reliable means of transportation between eastern Canada and Port Arthur was by ship on the Great Lakes. These were frozen at the time of this message; hence, the reference to the opening of navigation.)
Samuel Ray became the first Commanding Officer, being promoted to Captain in April of 1885 to command the Independent Company of Rifles, the first incarnation of the Regiment. He remained Commanding Officer until 1893. Prior to the First World War, the Regiment successively became, and now perpetuates, the following units:
* The Independent Company of Rifles, from 24 Apr 1885 to 10 Dec 1886;
* The Provisional Battalion of Rifles, from 10 Dec 1886 to 27 Apr 1887; and
* The 96th District of Algoma Battalion of Rifles, from 29 Apr 1887 to Aug 1896.
By 1896, the enthusiasm provoked by the Riel Rebellion was long forgotten, and the realities of trying to administer a unit flung across huge distances of relatively primitive frontier became evident. The 96th Bn was declared non-effective and struck from the books. Not until 1905 was it reactivated.
A little known chapter in the Regiment’s history is aid it provided to civil authorities in Fort William in 1909 and in Port Arthur in 1912, during periods of civil unrest marked by strikes and riots at coal docks in both communities. In both instances, the Regiment was able to restore order without clashing with the strikers.
The Regiment in The First World War
On 3 July, 1905, the Regiment was formed into the 96th The Lake Superior Regiment, a designation it retained until 15 Jul 1921. By this time, the old scarlet tunics of the infantry–a hold-over from the days of Napoleon and earlier–were replaced with khaki uniforms. In 1913, the Port Arthur Armouries was constructed and the Canadian Army as a whole began training with new purpose. The Regiment had made the transition to the realities of soldiering in the 20th Century.
And none too soon. With the outbreak of war with Germany in August, 1914, the Regiment immediately mustered. Its first task was to guard the huge grain elevators stretching along the shore of Thunder Bay, as well as nearby power-plants, dry-docks and wireless stations. In 1915, the Regiment became the 52nd Bn of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) and deployed to Europe. The unit did its first stint in the trenches on the Ypres front in March, 1916. During the next two and one-half years, while fighting in France and Belgium, the Regiment obtained its first battle honours.
Numerous members of the Regiment also earned individual decorations during the First World War, the most notable of which is that of Captain Patrick John O’Kelly. During the battle of Paaschendaele, on October 26, 1917, Captain O’Kelly earned the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour available to a soldier of the British Commonwealth. From the London Gazette of 11 January, 1918:
“While some forty men of Lt Shankland’s company of the 43rd had managed to fight their way to the crest of the spur… O’Kelly, in charge of A Company, 52nd Battalion was ordered to move up at once to their assistance. He brought his men up well and sweeping over the brow, they caught the flank of the enemy advancing against the 43 Bn post, driving the Germans before them and shooting them down as they ran. For a moment, it was a successful rout, but then the fire from the pillboxes grew heavier, and there ensued a series of gallant attempts upon the strongpoints before them…O’Kelly lead his men with wonderful judgement, selecting the point and method of attack with cool precision and never losing sight of this main objective – to gain ground and consolidate the ridge.
The Victoria Cross
Captain O’Kelly advanced his command over 1,000 yards of heavy fire without any artillery barrage, took the enemy positions on the crest of the hill by storm, and then personally organized and led a series of attacks against pill-boxes, his company alone capturing six of them with 100 prisoners and 100 machine guns. Later on the afternoon under the leadership of this gallant officer, his company repelled a strong counterattack, taking more prisoners, and subsequently during the night captured a hostile raiding party consisting of 1 officer, 10 men and a machine-gun. The whole of these achievements was chiefly due to the magnificent courage, daring and ability of Captain O’Kelly.”
–The London Gazette, January 11, 1918
Captain O’Kelly, winner of the Victoria Cross (photo credit- Canadian War Museum) The Regiment continued to fight in northern France until the end of the War on November 11, 1918. It returned to Canada in 1919.
Between the Wars
During the period 1919 to 1940, the Regiment remained in the Thunder Bay area. In 1921, it was renamed from the 52 Bn CEF to the Lake Superior Regiment. The Regimental Headquarters and A and B Companies were located at the Armouries in Port Arthur, while C and D Companies were housed in Fort William. This was a period of uncertainty for the Canadian militia as a whole, particularly during the “Roaring Twenties”, when, as Lieutenant Colonel Stanley puts it, “Life was made to be enjoyed and not frittered away on dull matters like militia drill”. Matters were no easier during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Moreover, equipment was old and wearing out, uniforms weren’t being replaced and little money was available for training. Finally, many in the public questioned the need for a militia–hadn’t the Great War of 1914-1918 been the “war to end wars”? Hadn’t the League of Nations been formed to prevent such horror from happening ever again?
The Regiment in The Second World War
This all changed, of course, when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, following years of unconcealed expansion in Europe. When Great Britain declared war on Germany, Canada quickly followed suit. In 1940, the Lake Superior Regiment was reformed into two battalions. The 1st Bn deployed to England, while the 2nd Bn remained in Port Arthur and Fort William, where it acted as a training unit for troops being sent to Europe and as part of the army reserve, providing security within Canada.
Another noteworthy, if relatively minor historical footnote is that of “Q Force”. Just south of Newfoundland lay the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Following the fall of France to the Nazis, the islands remained (technially, at least) under the control of the pro-Nazi Vichy French government. Concerned that naval intelligence could be transmitted from the islands to the German navy, the British and Canadian governments drafted plans to occupy them with troops. The Regiment was chosen for this purpose; the force it would deploy for the operation was termed Q Force. As it happened, the “invasion” never occurred, the islands aligning themselves solidly behind the Free French of Charles de Gaulle. Q Force was disbanded and the Regiment carried on to England.
The Regiment finally landed in France in July of 1944, as part of the follow-up force to the Normandy invasion. In April, 1942, it had been redesignated The Lake Superior Regiment (Motor), to reflect its new role, that of providing motorized infantry support to the 4th Canadian Armoured Division.
While the Regiment still travelled extensively by foot, new vehicles–trucks, half-tracks and even the small, fully-tracked “Universal” or “Bren Gun” carrier–gave the troops much greater mobility and flexibility, allowing them to keep pace with the tanks they were tasked to support.
As in the First World War, the Regiment distinguished itself in combat, earning more battle honours to emblazon upon the Colours and more honours and awards to individual soldiers. One outstanding example of this is the exploits of Charles Henry Byce who, as an Aboriginal Canadian, also exemplifies the major contribution to the Canadian military by its aboriginal people.
The Regiment fought across northern France, through Belgium and, by late 1944, into Holland. It was here that an unusual engagement occurred, when the Lake Superiors, together with tanks of the British Columbia Regiment, attacked four small German naval vessels in the harbour of Zijpe, in western Holland. Three were sunk; the fourth was badly damaged. It was a minor event in the greater campaign; even so, the Regiment is one of very few infantry units that can boast of a naval victory!
Zijpe Harbour after the attack by the Lake Superiors and the British Columbia Regiment (Photo Credit- DND) Finally, in April of 1945, the Regiment entered Germany during the final push of the war on the Western Front. The Regiment ended the war near the German town of Rastede on 4 May, 1945, when hostilities ceased. According to Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley, the Lake Superiors were “probably the last Canadian troops to be in contact with the enemy”. Of far greater importance to the troops, however, was the fact that the war was finally over.
The Lake Superior Regiment Ladies Auxiliary
A final note regarding the Regiment in the Second World War. During the course of the war, the Lake Superior Regiment Ladies Auxiliary provided a variety of comforts to the troops in Europe, including cigarettes, chocolate bars, gum, razor blades, candies, socks and soap. Through the Lake Superior Regiment Auxiliary Fund, which was registered under the War Charities Act, the Auxiliary raised some $15,000 during period 1940-1945. Without the dedicated work of the Auxiliary, the lives of the soldiers fighting in Europe would certainly have been that much harder.
To The Present
The Regiment finally returned to Port Arthur on 30 January, 1946. After demobilization, it was reorganized as a militia battalion. Many officers and men who had served in Europe remained in the unit, possibly to preserve the sense of comradeship that develops in a unit at war, and possibly because the lesson of preparedness which had not taken root in the public mind after the First World War did so now. On 29 June, the Regiment underwent another change, becoming the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment, the name it bears today. In so doing, it adopted the McGillivray tartan and regalia.
Interest in the militia has simmered in Thunder Bay (the name adopted by the old twin cities of Fort William and Port Arthur during their amalgamation in 1970) ever since–rising and falling, but never fading completely. While not having deployed operationally as a unit since the end of the Second World War, individual members of the unit have taken part in operations with the Canadian Regular Force, with NATO in Europe and in peacekeeping operations around the world.
There are many ways of measuring the contribution of a military unit to war–battle honours, awards and decorations, objectives seized and enemy killed and captured. None, however, are as fundamental, nor as representative of the sacrifice entailed in fighting for a cause as the casualties, those killed and wounded. Not only are they lives lost, but they reflect also the lives of families and loved ones left empty and sad.
In two world wars, the Regiment lost a total of 840 officers and other ranks killed or missing. Of those, 644 were lost in the First World War and 196 in the Second World War. No distinction is made here between those killed in battle and those killed in accidents during training and deployment; all died in the service of their country. Another 589 officers and other ranks of the Regiment were wounded during the Second World War; unfortunately, no records exist to detail the number of wounded during the First World War. Suffice to say that the number must have been considerable.
Their virtures shall not only be celebrated by inscriptions on stone in their own country, but abide in the memory of other men in all lands.
(from Pericles’ funeral oration over the Athenian warriors, as recorded by Thucydides. This is inscribed under the dedication of Lieutenant-Colonel Stanley’s official history of the Regiment, “In the Face of Danger”)