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The British Colonies in North America.

The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1124, p. 657.

December 28, 1861

The attention of the Canadian people at the present juncture (says the Halifax Reporter) is wisely directed to the all-important question of "national defences." There appears to be a prevalent impression, which is rapidly gaining ground among all classes of people, that they must take immediate measures to provide for the security of the province in case of a sudden invasion from across the borders. The unsatisfactory state of relations between England and the United States brings home forcibly to every intelligent man the necessity of preparing for any emergency. According to late Canadian papers, the military authorities are making their preparations slowly and surely; but still it is obvious that, unless the people themselves afford united assistance, Canada, the upper province especially, would in case of war be in a most perilous position. In Quebec, and other parts of Lower Canada, there are fortifications of an impregnable character; but in Western Canada, with the exception of Kingston, we believe there are none of any importance or strength. The cities of Toronto, Hamilton, London, and the towns of Niagara, Windsor (opposite Detroit), and a hundred other places, would be in most imminent danger if a war were to break out suddenly—during the winter or spring, for instance. All the fighting, in fact, in Upper Canada would have to be done in the open field or behind hastily-constructed batteries and earthworks. The importance, then, of forming a volunteer organisation all through the country is becoming a matter which cannot be disputed by any man of foresight who values the safety of the province. Already there is a general movement made to establish volunteer companies and we are told that "there is every reason to believe that much will be done to place the militia forces of the country on a better footing than they are at present, and thus to make this arm of the service perfectly reliable in case of emergency." The militia, we may mention, in Canada, as well as in all the provinces, is almost a nonentity—little else than an undisciplined mob; and, unless steps are taken to drill and discipline it, it would be useless in the field. This fact is being generally recognised on all sides, and the prospect is that there will soon be a change some way for the better. In Montreal a general calling out of the provincial militia for drill during the winter is spoken of. In Toronto the Leader is urging upon the officers of the sedentary militia the propriety of resigning their commissions or else taking immediate steps to become acquainted with their drill, and in many places all over the province it is said there is a desire among the sedentary officers to join with the active volunteers in order to learn their drill. Still, the impression amongst men of good judgment and discernment is that there is little reliance to be pleased on the militia, and that the best and surest mode of providing for the defence of the province is to form a volunteer regiment in every locality.

In Halifax (says the Reporter) the old militia law has entirely gone out of practice and given place to the volunteer system. Nowhere in the British provinces, indeed, have the young men responded more heartily to the call to form themselves into corps for defence than in Nova Scotia; and few, if any, of the colonies can present an equal number of well-drilled and organised companies. Still, however, gratifying as has been the success that has attended the laudable efforts of the promoters of the volunteer movement, a great deal more might be done in the way of increasing the number of the forces all over the country. Both the Lieutenant-Governor and General Doyle, on the occasion of the recent volunteer inspection, very properly made some observations on the importance of obtaining additional strength to the volunteer ranks; and it is to be hoped that their advice will have some effect with the large numbers of young men who have as yet, all over the province, kept aloof from the movement. Very lately, in Bridgetown and Picton, an effort has been made, and successfully too, to form a volunteer company in each of these places; and it would be satisfactory and encouraging to see a similar spirit evinced in every town and village throughout this province. Let this be done, and we would soon, like the mother country, be in a position to present a body of "living walls" that could successfully repel any force that might invade our shores.

At the present moment perhaps no subject is of so much interest and importance as the facilities for the transport of troops over from Halifax to Quebec. The following statement, derived from a gentleman who has recently travelled through New Brunswick, from Quebec to Halifax, will be found interesting:—" On disembarking at Halifax the troops can be conveyed by rail to Windsor, Nova Scotia, about sixty miles, from which point they can take steamers across the Bay of Fundy (which, contrary to popular ideas, is never frozen over) to St. Stephen's, a distance of about 170 miles. From St. Stephen's, a small town of about 4000 inhabitants, there is a railway open to Canterbury, twelve miles from Woodstock, one of the largest towns in New Brunswick. From Canterbury to Woodstock the distance can either be marched over a good snow road or performed in sleighs. From Woodstock a day's journey will convey the troops to Great Falls, a distance of 72 miles, over excellent roads. From Great Falls the next stage is to Lake Port, a small place on the Temiscouta, and thence by sleigh over a very good new military road (which is kept open by the mail track three times a week, and by the operations of the lumberers), they will arrive at the Riviére du Loup. Forty-two miles of this latter portion of the journey, and during which the only practical inconvenience that will be experienced is through a forest district called the Portage, involving an ascent of upwards of 1000 feet. At all the points named the troops could be supplied with refreshments and lodgings in the houses, barns, and outbuildings. The only scarcity with regard to provisions is in the article or flour, as very little grain is grown in the district over which this route passes. There is, however, abundance of beef and other provisions. From the Riviére du Loup the troops will be conveyed by railway, a distance of 115 miles, to Quebec."

Accounts from Kingston, Canada, of the 6th inst., denote much activity in military and warlike preparations. General Sir Fenwick Willliams, accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Robertson, Royal Engineers, and the members of the Staff, had made a thorough inspection of the facilities for fortifying Toronto. Guns of heavy calibre were to be placed along the margin of the bay in the vicinity of the Nadaud Old Forts. Workmen were immediately to commence repairing the blockhouses. The men of the 30th Regiment were busily employed in the use of heavy guns. A party of Engineers, Sappers and Miners, had gone to Quebec, and a number of them would immediately be dispatched westward. Mr. S. Cunard had gone to Quebec at the request of the Canadian Government. The 62nd and another regiment were to be sent to this province; and it was thought some arrangement was likely to be effected with the Cunard Company to bring up these troops at least as far as Riviére du Loup before the close of the navigation.

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