History of the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles)

The 103rd Regiment was created in 1910 as an infantry unit of the Non-Permanent Active Militia, and was reorganized in the early 1920s into the Calgary Regiment, the 1st Battalion of which became The Calgary Highlanders.

During its brief life, the 103rd Regiment recruited thousands of young men for overseas service in the Great War, as well as performing training and security duties at home in Canada. The Regiment is today perpetuated by The King’s Own Calgary Regiment (Royal Canadian Armoured Corps) and The Calgary Highlanders, who in turn perpetuate many of the proud Canadian Expeditionary Force Battalions who served in the trenches, or provided reinforcements for other units in the field.


As a Rifle Regiment, the 103rd adopted many unique traditions, including blackened badges intended to provide concealment from the enemy.

As a Rifle Regiment, the 103rd adopted many unique traditions, including blackened badges intended to provide concealment from the enemy.

Birth of a Regiment

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

War Service

When the Canadian Expeditionary Force was created in 1914 to aid Britain in fighting Germany and its allies the 103rd Calgary Rifles was not selected as one of the units to mobilize. In fact, no formed units in existence in Canada were selected, and instead, anonymous numbered battalions were created. The details of the 103rd contribution are found on another page of this site.

As a Rifle Regiment, the 103rd adopted many unique traditions, including blackened badges intended to provide concealment from the enemy.

The 103rd maintained its part time status, drilling weekly in its Drill Hall and providing soldiers for posting to other full time employment in Canada and overseas. A wave of construction, of solid and purpose built Armouries, was underway in Canada, to provide the new military units with permanent homes. Mewata Armoury underwent construction on 24 September 1915 and was completed in 1918, at a cost of 282, 051 dollars. The new building was of red brick and sandstone construction with a cut stone foundation, significant for large uninterrupted span of steel trusses and its Tudor/Gothic Revival architectural style. Deliberately calling to mind medieval castles, the new armoury came complete with corner towers. The large parade square was surrounded by 117 separate rooms and offices, with shooting ranges and bowling alleys in the basement.

One of the tasks of the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles) during the First World War was to raise and train recruits for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Under the mobilization scheme in place, the 103rd was not slated to go overseas as a unit of its own. Individuals were able to serve in the many battalions of the CEF that were raised in Alberta.

Calgary’s first battalion was the Tenth Battalion; formed in Valcartier in September 1914, 846 men were provided by the 103rd Regiment (with 665 more coming from Manitoba’s 106th Winnipeg Light Infantry. The battalion was one of the last units of the initial contingent of the CEF to be formed, and recruits were drawn from a number of sources. The unit went on to fight as part of the First Canadian Division in every major Canadian engagement of the war. Recruits for the battalion were drawn from all over Canada, but the majority came from Alberta throughout the war, and its “home” was considered to be Calgary.

The 31st (Alberta) Battalion began recruiting in Calgary in November 1914, extending its scope to the rest of Alberta, and eventually found a place in the Second Canadian Division. On 15 December 1914, another Calgary battalion was raised, the 50th, and despite sending two seperate drafts of 255 men each to reinforce the Tenth Battalion in France (in June and September 1915), the battalion was completed and sent overseas in October 1915, being attached to the Fourth Canadian Division and also seeing extensive service in the trenches from 1916 to the end of the war.

The Public Eye

The 103rd Calgary Rifles were a high profile organization in the small city of Calgary during its brief existence. Weekly parades were advertised in the The Calgary Herald, the mainstream city newspaper, and shooting competitions, balls, and other social events were carried out in the public eye.

One Staff Sergeant William Pearce, born 24 Aug 1858 in Nova Scotia, passed away on 1 Mar 1919 in Calgary. His obituary proudly pointed out his involvement with the 103rd Calgary Rifles. Recreational shooting at this time was a very popular activity, and a Rifle Regiment would prize itself especially on the marksmanship abilities of its soldiers. A contemporary news paper clipping read:

“The remains of Staff-Sergt. William Pearce a well-known old-time Calgary resident and famous rifle shot were laid to rest with military honors in the Union Cemetery yesterday. Sergt. Pearce was one of the best known old-timers of this city. For many years he was a member of the 103rd Calgary rifles, and took part in many famous rifle matches. The Cortege started from the undertaking parlors of Graham, McCall & Ruttle …The coffin was borne on a gun carriage and escorted by a number of officers and men from his old regiment. At the cemetery a short service was read and a firing party paid its last respects to a gallant soldier.”

William J. Oliver photo showing the 103rd Calgary Rifles on parade. Events like this kept the local military in the public’s eye. Glenbow Archives photo

Reorganization and Demise

After the First World War, the Canadian military again underwent many fundamental changes. The enthusiasm for the military felt by the civil population in the opening years of the century was gone; the casualties of the Great War were appalling both in number and in character. Aside from the 59, 544 Canadians who were killed, there were legions of men blinded, crippled and incapacitated by small arms, shellfire, and poison gas. Germany was defeated, Russia was racked with inner turmoil, and Japan, France and the United States were allies; there seemed to be no reason to spend money on a large army.

The Canadian Militia, thanks to the unique system of Mobilization, was left with two separate armies. The prewar Militia, of whom the 103rd Regiment was still a part, and the battalions of the CEF. While most men had been discharged early in 1919, the units still stood on the books. Both armies had units laying claim to Battle Honours, and both wanted their histories to be perpetuated.

It was decided that the wartime CEF battalions would all be disbanded, and their history and honours perpetuated by the peace time Militia units. This included the 10th, 31st and 50th Battalions, all of whom contained 103rd Calgary Rifles men, and all of whom served proudly in the trenches.

Not long after the dissolution of the CEF battalions, the Canadian Militia as a whole underwent other modernizations. The archaic system of numbering regiments, dispensed with already by the British Army, was done away with. As the new regiments were created, all with an eye to perpetuating both the old pre-war units as well as the wartime battalions, the 103rd Regiment, Calgary Rifles was renamed – losing its status as a rifle regiment – and became, simply, The Calgary Regiment.

The official order in 1920 outlined that The Calgary Regiment was to consist of five battalions, the 1st to perpetuate the 10th Battalion, the 2nd to perpetuate the 50th Battalion, with the 56th, 82nd and 137th CEF battalions (none of whom saw action as formed units) perpetuated by “reserve” battalions of the Calgary Regiment.

An amplifying order in 1921 further added that, in recognition of the fact that the 103rd Regiment (Calgary Rifles) was senior to the 106th Regiment (Winnipeg Light Infantry), that the new Calgary Regiment would take precedence over the new Winnipeg Light Infantry regiment, also perpetuating the 10th.

The rifle regiment traditions were abandoned in January 1921, when the first battalion was granted the title “Calgary Highlanders” as part of its designation, and in 1924 an alliance was formed with The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of the British Army.

The 2nd Battalion of the new Calgary Regiment also abandoned rifle traditions, and in further reorganizations in the 1930s were designated a Tank Regiment. The unit went on to become part of the Canadian Armoured Corps during the Second World War, and became The King’s Own Calgary Regiment (RCAC) after the war.

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