Reviews / Comptes rendus - Summers, Jack L.; Chartrand, René; and Marion, R.J., Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970

Reviews / Comptes rendus

Summers, Jack L.; Chartrand, René; and Marion, R.J., Military Uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970

Charles Bourque
Old Fort York
Summers, Jack L.; Chartrand, René; and Marrion, R.J. Military uniforms in Canada, 1665-1970. Canadian War Museum, Historical Publication no. 16. Ottawa: National Museum of Canada, 1981. Also published in French as: L'uniforme militaire au Canada, 1665-1970. 192 pp. $29.95 hardbound.

1 The questions most asked in military museum circles seem to be concerned with the minutiae of uniforms. This minutiae is of course important to those charged with reproducing uniform for public display and for interpretative staff to wear. Woe betide a curator who does not explore every available source before proceeding to the final drawing and the finished product. There is always a clever buff among the museum visitors who will explain with great relish and knowledge that really the lace on that uniform should be bastion-ended and not squared.

2 Until recently, the standard reference works on period uniforms have been by British authorities, particularly W.Y. Carman and C.C.P. Lawson. Unfortunately, when they show a frontal view of a uniform, one wishes to know what the back looks like. Since it is not within most museum budgets to pick up the phone and call Great Britain, the problem may seem insoluble. There are few experts on all historical military uniforms in Canada; however, there are individuals who are knowledgeable on particular periods. It is to be regretted that those who have responsibilities for uniforms do not direct their questions to these sources and improve their products.

3 René Chartrand; one of the authors of this book, has gained such a reputation as a source of information. With Jack Summers, and R.J. Marrion and after a number of years of research (if the dates on the illustrations are indicative), they have produced a book which gives a short history of each military unit selected, a description of its uniform, with an explanation of details, followed by a colour illustration of the uniform. The author's aim is "to depict the dress of some of the soldiers who played a significant role in Canada's development during the past 300 years." With the addition of the histories, they have done more than this. It is useful to have this information under one cover. The style of the histories tends to be disjointed, however, and they would benefit from being structured sequentially.

4 It is satisfying to read a book with great illustrations. Here are colourful and accurate drawings to please the most discerning eye. I particularly liked the Queen's Own Rifleman, looking dusty, unkempt, and tired. It seems to capture the prairie setting of the Northwest Rebellion. The National Museums of Canada should consider publishing individual prints suitable for framing. The average reader will find The Cataloguing of Military Uniforms by Ross and Chartrand a useful aid to the text relating to the illustrations, although a short glossary is included in Military Uniforms of Canada.

5 It becomes apparent to the reader of this book that military dress evolved with changes in tactics and weapons. The uniform of the Régiment De Guyenne was adapted to the environment in which the soldier lived and fought. The dress of the 1812 period portrays a soldier in a tall shako (designed to make the men look taller) and a tunic with wings (to make them look wider). This is a uniform for troops in line, firing an inaccurate weapon at close quarters. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the uniforms change to satisfy the requirements of dispersion and increased fire power. The colour remains for ceremonial and drill purposes only. The last uniform in the book is the Canadian greens, and we may hope that new variations perhaps may brighten it up a bit.

6 Chartrand, Summers, and Marrion have filled a niche that has stood empty too long. They should be encouraged to undertake a follow-up volume on British regiments and corps who have contributed to Canadian history. This book is required reading for professionals and amateurs, history buffs, and model makers. One question puzzles me, however. What is a butcher boot?

Charles Bourque