A Century of Rifles
1860 - The Halifax Rifles - 1960
by J. G. QUIGLEY
Lt.-Col. Quigley, M.S.M., E.D., rnsc., served in the First World War, joined the Halifax Rifles in 1922, and was senior
major in 1939. Later he served in Canada, Britain, France, and with SHAEF.
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THERE PROUDLY HANGS on the wall of the Officers Mess of the Halifax Rifles the original Roll of the Halifax
Scottish Volunteer Rifle Company with the signature of the one hundred and twenty citizens of this "East
Canadian Port" who enrolled in that historic company at its inception. The date shown thereon is December 13,
1859, and the authenticity of the Roll is vouched for in the fact it bears the seal and signature of Her Gracious
Majesty Queen Victoria's Representative in the then Province of Nova Scotia, the Earl of Mulgrave. Based on this
official document over the intervening years members of the Halifax Rifles have maintained that their seniority
from this date makes them Canada's senior regiment, despite the fact that after Confederation, the central
government decreed that our regimental recognition date would be from May 14, 1860, thus making the Halifax
Rifles the second senior regiment in Canada. As patriotic citizens and disciplined soldiers always sworn to uphold
law and order we accept the ruling of the Dominion authority but our official Roll with the date of December 13,
1859, cannot be gainsaid.
Thus on May 14, 1960 the Halifax Rifles, RCAC (M), celebrates one hundred years of military service to Canada.
The preamble to the Act of the Legislative Assembly of May 1860 reads:
"Whereas while large standing armies are maintained by the despotic powers of Europe, it is necessary that the
physical resources of the British Empire should be ascertained and organized, that its integrity may be preserved,
its commerce protected, and its powers and influence maintained;â€�
"And whereas the youth of this Province have shown a laudable spirit of emulation in coming forward to enroll
themselves as volunteers for the defense of their country, it is necessary to provide them with the means of
acquiring such discipline and training as will render them an effective force for this purpose.â€�
This Act was the outcome of the recognition in 1859 that the provincial conscript militia, which had been in
existence for some 110 years from 1749-was dying of dry rot, and that it was one of those worthy endeavours which
existed on paper only. In that year the Earl of Mulgrave, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, sent home reports
on the condition of the force and asked for approval of the formation of volunteer rifle corps. The proposal was
heartily endorsed by the military authorities and the Government of Nova Scotia, and the leading men of the City
of Halifax decided to form a volunteer unit, paying out of their own pockets for uniforms, accoutrements and other
expenses which had been previously a provincial charge. At the public meeting preceding the actual organization
there were present on the platform the Earl of Mulgrave; General Trollope, commanding Her Majesty's Forces in
British North America, who presided; Chief Justice Bliss, Judge Young, Hon. Joseph Howe, Hon. J. W. Johnstone
and many others.
Action was swift and efficient. In November 1859 and following months, six volunteer rifle companies were
enrolled and organized, each company being a separate unit and having an individual name. First came "The
Scottish Volunteer Rifle Company of Halifax" on December 13, 1859, later known as the "First Scottish". then on
December 15 "The Chebucto Greys". followed quickly by the "Mayflower Rifles" December 19, "Irish Volunteer
Rifles" and "Halifax Rifles", December 23, 1859, and the "Dartmouth Rifles" joined in early 1860. A strong
nationalistic feature played a part in the organization of the "Scottish", "Irish", and "Halifax" Rifle Companies,
and a keen spirit of competition existed between them and continued for many years.
At a meeting held in Halifax May 14, 1860, of representatives from the Volunteer Companies, with Colonel R.
Bligh Sinclair, Adjutant General of Militia, presiding, it was decided to form the companies into the "Halifax
Volunteer Battalion". Sir William Fenwick Williams, Bart., the hero of Kars, accepted appointment as the first
Colonel, and by a general order dated May 16, 1860, Captain William Chearnley, commanding the "Chebucto
Greys", was appointed Captain Commandant of the Battalion. The Imperial Authorities handed over the South
Barrack Yard for a drill ground, and the first Battalion drill was held on May 30, 1860, the "Scottish" company as
senior holding the right of line, "Mayflower Rifles" second, "Irish Rifles" third, "Dartmouth Rifles" fourth,
"Halifax Rifles" fifth, and "Chebucto Greys" left flank. These relative positions were retained until the
companies as such ceased to exist or when reorganization was effected during the Great War 1914-18.
The following excerpt of Lieut-Col Quigley's "A Century of Rifles" appeared in the May 1960 issue of The Atlantic Advocate
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