The Militia, or part time Army, has always been a vital component of the defence establishment in Canada. Although living in an uneasy peace at times with her neighbour to the south, no other serious hostile enemies seemed willing or able to threaten the country in the period between Confederation and the raising of the 103rd Regiment. The Fenian Raids in the east were handily dealt with, as was the Northwest Rebellion. The Boer War offered Canadians a chance to volunteer for adventure overseas, and many Albertans proudly went, bringing back with them tales of heroism.
In the wake of the Boer War, Canada’s small army was modernized, and new supporting corps were created to take over from British regular soldiers who had performed ordnance, service, engineer and signal functions in Canada. Control over many functions was also transferred from the civil bureaucracy to the military.
The Militia was reformed along with the regular forces in Canada; paid drill periods were extended from 16 per annum to 30. Pay rates were raised, and bonuses were paid to soldiers who were good shots, or attended summer training. The camps (several consecutive days in length) in the summer were the height of the training season, where soldiers from varying units were concentrated and judged on what they had been trained all year. In 1906, some 40,000 soldiers across Canada attended at least 12 days of training.
City-dwelling soldiers were not permitted to attend training outside their homes until 1910, and in that year 16,000 urban soldiers attended camp to find ceremonial drill all but abandoned in favour of tactical training.
In Alberta, however, the Militia system had not extended to the “Northwest.” In 1902 William C.G. Armstrong tried to have a locally recruited regiment of 400 men officially recognized by the federal government. Alberta was not yet a Province of Canada, and recognition was denied. In 1904, Armstrong tried again to have a regiment authorized, but was similarly denied. Alberta joined Confederation in 1905, and in 1909, Military District 13 was organized, including Alberta. Colonel Steele commanded the district, and at Steele’s request, Armstrong set about to raise a regiment of eight companies.
The 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles) were duly authorized at last on the 1st of April 1910. The new Commanding Officer toasted the birth of his new unit with Black Velvet and raw oysters.
The Regiment was born into a healthy climate; the Militia in Canada was steadily growing in the light of the new reforms, numbering 75,000 (of a total population of some 8 million) at about this time. Officers were not just joining for the many social aspects of the job, but also attended the Militia Staff Course that would prepare them to be effective leaders and administrators.
The period 1900-1914 is often described as one of military renaissance in Canada, and the 103rd was just one of many regiments raised in this period. Also important was the growing cadet movement and other similar movements such as the Boy Scouts. The population of Canada was largely British, and still felt fierce pride in their heritage. The horrors of South Africa were little known, and war could still seem glorious, as the majority of Canadians knew nothing about it.
In July 1914, some 60,000 soldiers attended two week long summer camps. The next month, Canada found itself at war when Britain entered hostilities in Europe