Remembering the Royal Rifles of Canada

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Photo: Shirley Nadeau

Author Hélène Tanguay stands beside the exhibit of photos of her late father, his medals and his uniform at the launch of her book Le Dernier Commandant du Royal Rifles of Canada.

This is the time of the year we remember the contribution our military men and women make to our freedom and security. Book publishers often choose this moment to offer the public a new work on the subject. This year, we find the recently launched Le Dernier Commandant du Royal Rifles of Canada by Hélène Tanguay.

We easily associate the Royal 22e Régiment and the Voltigeurs de Québec with our city. But there used to be a third infantry unit – the Royal Rifles of Canada – which resided in Quebec City until its withdrawal from the battle order of the country in February 1965.

The Royal Rifles was in fact the oldest regiment to be garrisoned in the capital. It was founded on Feb. 28, 1862, exactly one week before the founding of the Voltigeurs. It belonged to the Canadian militia. Its members were therefore part-time soldiers, many of whom were also full-time bread-winners and fathers. Lieutenant Colonel Gilles Tanguay, the last commandant of the regiment, was one of these dedicated men. His daughter Hélène felt that he deserved to have his story told.

The launching of her book took place at the Garrison Club on Nov. 1. Some 75 people attended the event, which began with a rendition of “Amazing Grace” by piper Line Bélanger, a talented and versatile musician.

Deputy Mayor Michelle Morin-Doyle congratulated the author and emphasized how important it is to remember the service and numerous sacrifices made by our women and men in uniform.

Retired General Marc-André Bélanger, former commandant of the Voltigeurs, described the busy life of a militia soldier and the tremendous support required from his or her spouse in order to pursue a military career.

The author concluded the presentations by thanking the remarkable people who assisted her in writing about a milieu that she scarcely knew at the outset. It took her four years of research, particularly in newspapers (including the QCT), to assemble the story of her father and the activity of the regiment during his service in the unit.

During its existence, the Royal Rifles shared the use of the Manège militaire with the Voltigeurs. The regiment recruited primarily among the English-speaking population, while the Voltigeurs concentrated on French-Canadians. It is therefore quite remarkable that Gilles Tanguay, whose name was clearly French, not only joined the Rifles but became its commanding officer. Mind you, he had Scottish ancestry and had married a woman of Irish descent.

Gilles Tanguay was born the day after the Armistice of 1918. He served honourably during the Second World War. He went overseas in July 1944 and remained in Europe until the end of the conflict.

The Royal Rifles is particularly known for its participation in the heroic but vain defence of Hong Kong in late 1941. Fortunately for Tanguay, he was not among the men sent to Asia and thus was spared the ordeal of being a prisoner of war in Japan. A large plaque on the wall of the Quebec Armoury commemorates those who lost their lives in Hong Kong. Tanguay was involved in the Royal Rifles of Canada from 1946 until 1964, and was the last commandant of the regiment from 1960 to 1964. The Royal Rifles were retired from the Canadian Army in 1965. The Voltigeurs de Québec graciously perpetuate its memory to this day.

To obtain a copy of Le Dernier Commandant du Royal Rifles of Canada by Hélène Tanguay, you may contact its publisher, Les Éditions du Patrimoine Inc. by telephone at 418-698-4554 or by email at [email protected]

 

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This beautifully restored plaque in memory of the members of the 1st Battalion (Hong Kong) Royal Rifles of Canada, in amalgamation with the 7/11 Hussars, is affixed to a wall inside the Quebec Armoury / Manège Militaire, which was partly destroyed by fire on April 4, 2008. Photo by Jay Ouellet