The Seaforth Highlanders in Canada
By W. Neil Fraser


The first Highland Regiment associated with Canada was the 78th Regiment or, Fraser's Highlanders, raised in 1757 by Colonel Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat, for service in North America under General James Wolfe. The Regiment took an active part in the capture of Louisbourgh in 1758; the defeat of the French at Battle of the Plains of Abraham at Quebec in 1759; the capture of Montreal in 1760 and the defence of St. John's, Newfoundland in 1761, before being disbanded in 1763.

The British Army practice of re-using regimental numbers is often confusing. As Alan has explained, the much later 78th Highland Regiment, raised in 1793 (called The Ross-shire Buffs in 1794), later became the 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. The 78th, after service in many countries around the world, sailed for Canada in July 1867. They were first stationed at Montreal, where they remained for two years. In 1869 they moved to Halifax, where they remained for another two years before returning to Scotland. While in Halifax, they also established a detachment at Saint John, New Brunswick.

While the 78th Highland Regiment (Ross-shire Buffs) were not known as the Seaforth Highlanders during their stay in Canada, the uniform they wore was the same. The re-created regiment that provides the guard and colour parties at The Citadel in Halifax today, is based on the 78th, and wears the same uniform, including MacKenzie Tartan kilt, Scarlet Doublet Tunic with buff facings, full feather bonnets and the Seaforth Stag's Head badge. While the Seaforth connection to the 78th Highlanders at Halifax may not be apparent, their MacKenzie Clan influence and later evolution as the 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders should be recognized by Canadian historians.

The Seaforth Highlanders Regiment I am most familiar with, is the one first raised in 1911 in Vancouver as the 72nd Highlanders of Canada, a militia regiment. With permission, they adopted the uniform of the Seaforth Highlanders, with a cougar collar badge. In 1912, they were officially affiliated with the Seaforth Highlanders in Scotland, and became the 72nd Regiment, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. The regiment paraded in Vancouver in 1912 for the presentation of its first stand of colours. The presentation was made by HRH The Duke of Connaught, Governor General of Canada. He was Arthur, third son of Queen Victoria, whose daughter was Princess Patricia, after whom the famous P.P.C.L.I. are named. Princess Patricia later married Admiral Sir Alexander Ramsay, and their son, Captain Alexander Ramsay of Mar is married to Lady Saltoun, Chief of Clan Fraser.

The Canadian Seaforths served with distinction in World War I, winning many battle honours in France with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. A cousin of my mother's joined the regiment in 1914 at the age of 15 (he lied about his age) and went overseas as a young bugler. He was very nearly killed in the poison gas attacks in France, and returned to Canada after the War on a full disability pension. As a young boy, I remember seeing him on family visits. He was left with little lung capacity, and was unable to work for the rest of his life. The Seaforths, being an infantry regiment, had many such tragic survivors of the first World War, and their bravery and the hardships they endured are too easily forgotten in our modern world of politically correct historical revisionism.

In the Second World War, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, built on the foundation of the peacetime militia, went overseas early in the war with the Canadian Army First Division. They took part in the invasion of Sicily and fought in the Italian Campaign, as did the 48th

Highlanders of Canada. They were later transferred to England, and took part in the D-Day Landing in 1944, and the subsequent liberation of Western Europe. I well remember the return of the Regiment to Vancouver after the war, as our Cadet Pipes & Drums took part in the parade from the train station to the Seaforth Armoury on Burrard Street. Our dedication was later rewarded by having our full dress uniforms confiscated to outfit the Pipes & Drums of the postwar Regiment, and we spent some time unable to parade in full dress, until a benefactor came to our rescue to purchase new uniforms.

In the period between the Wars, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada became the premier regiment in Vancouver. My eldest brother Jack was a Seaforth cadet from 1929 to 1934, later serving in the militia regiment. My brother Ross was a cadet from 1936 to 1939 and I joined the cadets as a trainee drummer in 1944 at the age of 12. I served as a drummer from 1945 to 1951, rising to the rank of corporal, sergeant and later Drum Major. While I am a Fraser, and still prefer my Fraser Tartan kilt, I wore the MacKenzie Tartan of the Seaforths with great regimental pride, along with the scarlet tunic and feather bonnet of our full dress uniforms.

In Highland Regiments, both Scottish and Canadian, troops didn't have a chance to ask why they were fighting, nor did they have much to say as individuals as to where and when they fought, but they did what they had to do, with great pride, and helped to bring about an Allied victory, and the relative peace of the past 50 years.

The Pipes & Drums of a Highland Regiment are the focus for much of the tradition which has made them so special. Not only do the pipers and drummers wear the finest example of the uniform, they play the traditional music of the Great Highland Bagpipe and the tunes which are associated with their own regimental history. Not surprisingly, one of the Seaforth marches is called Cabar Feidh, in honour of the traditional name of MacKenzie chiefs. Highland Regiment pipers carry a banner on their main drone, often with the clan badge of a former commanding officer. The side drums are usually emblazoned with the battle honours of the Regiment (show small drum), and the Drum Major, who wears the complete full dress uniform of a Warrant Officer, has a wide sash incorporating all of the regimental insignia. When the Pipes & Drums lead the Regiment on parade, they provide that spark of pride to those marching behind them, that has always made Highland Regiments so unique.

The current down-sizing of military expenditures in Britain has eliminated several Highland Regiments in Scotland, and only four remain. While Canada still has ten Highland Regiments, our own military down-sizing has already had an effect on some of them, and will likely result in many of them being done away with.

Much as they had done in Scotland, Highland Regiments in Canada provided a focal point for the social life of the transplanted Scots. The Annual Ball of St. Andrew's Society of Montreal, which began in 1835, has always enjoyed the active participation of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment of Canada), with the Pipes & Drums providing the music and colour, and the young officers, in their full dress mess uniforms, escorting the Montreal debutantes to the ball. The St. Andrew's Society of Toronto, founded a year later in 1836, has provided a similar focus for Scottish social activity. In 1891, under the leadership of Alexander Fraser, secretary of the society, permission was secured to raise the 48th Highlanders of Canada, later affiliated with the Gordon Highlanders in Scotland. The 48th has been closely associated with the St. Andrew's Ball in Toronto, sharing sponsorship with the society in alternate years.

In Vancouver, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada provided the same focal point for the large Scottish community, and the sons of many prominent Vancouver families of Scottish origin, joined the regiment. At the time I joined the Seaforth Cadets in the 1940s, recruits were not even considered unless they had an extensive Scottish ancestry, and only one in ten were accepted. With a limited number of kilts and uniforms available, recruits often had to wait a year before they were fully outfitted. To wear a uniform, steeped in Highland tradition, made us stand out from any other Army Cadets, and we wore the uniform with great pride. Perhaps it is nostalgic to look back on those days, but military discipline and the traditions of the Regiment gave me a greater appreciation of my Scottish heritage, and it is sad to see it all coming to an end. The role of Scots in Canada has never been fully acknowledged in our new multi-cultural mosaic. Eliminating one of the most colourful and popular examples of that role, will not enhance our recognition.

Presented to: Scottish Studies Colloquium
University of Guelph Saturday, September 23, 1995
Neil Fraser & Alan McKenzie


W. Neil Fraser (left)  Alan McKenzie (right)


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