A Historical Overview of the CF Chaplaincy

From its inauguration during the First World War to the present, the military chaplaincy has developed from a largely unrecognized group of volunteer personnel to a fully integrated, ecumenical, officially bilingual, formally trained, professional wing of the Canadian Forces. The CF chaplaincy has, in effect, become a bureaucratic, modern, religious institution in its own right. Although volunteer chaplains have served with Canadian soldiers from as early as the Boer War, an official Chaplain Branch was not established until the Second World War.1

While the earliest Christian clergy in Canada were Roman Catholic priests who arrived with Jacques Cartier in 1535 during his second visit to New France (Crowley 1996, 1), the earliest recorded evidence of Protestant worship occurred on board ship in Baffin Bay, led by an Anglican priest travelling with the Frobisher expedition in 1577 (Crowley 110; DND 2003b, 1). Although the French Roman Catholics maintained a religious monopoly in the new territories, the earliest military chaplains were Protestant clergy accompanying British forces at the conquest of Acadia (1710) and Quebec (1759) (Murphy 1996, 110). The majority of British military chaplains were Anglican; however, there were small numbers of other groups such as Scottish Presbyterians (DND 2003b, 1.2). Roman Catholic priests were not officially admitted to the British Army until 1802 (1.1-1.2). Despite laws that exempted clergymen from military service in British North America, which was still a British colony, the early clerics of Upper Canada served soldiers in militia units during the War of 1812 and in small numbers during the wars that followed (Crerar 1995, 3-9, 13). In the inaugural years at least, most clerics serving soldiers from Upper Canada were Protestant ministers (Crerar 1995; DND 2003b, 2009).2

All British military chaplains were ascribed the familiar term 'padre.' This tradition is still in use today across the Canadian Forces. Although the term is clearly an adoption of the Latin word for father (padre) commonly used by Roman Catholics, the Canadian Forces Chaplain Branch Manual suggests that British military personnel adopted 'padre' for their non-Catholic chaplains while serving in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War or while stationed elsewhere in India and Africa (DND 2003b).

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