Our Heritage and Our Stories

The mission of the Canadian Military Engineers is to contribute to the survival, mobility, and combat effectiveness of the Canadian Forces. Their roles are to conduct combat operations, support combat forces in war and peace, support national development, provide assistance to civil authorities, and support international aide programmes. Canadian Military Engineers are highly trained team players. They perform their tasks with tenacity and determination. Professionalism and rigorous training allow them to operate the most sophisticated equipment yet, when required, place tools aside and fight as infantry. They serve wherever the need arises, proud of their motto "Ubique." Arguably, few other organizations, civilian or military, have contributed as much to the defence and development of this nation as have the Canadian Military Engineers.

This page provides a selected assembly of a set of vignettes that tell the story of Canadian Military Engineers across a broad range of functional areas over the many decades of our service. The first section is a brief outline of the legacy of Canadian Military Engineers. The second section leads to a collection of articles telling the stories that comprise this legacy.

Our Legacy

Canada would be less than the great country that it is today if it were not for the contributions - during times of peace as well as conflict - of its Military Engineers. Military Engineers have been ubiquitous, having opened the nation's heartland, explored the far reaches of the Arctic barrens, and helped transform once isolated trading posts into today's great cities. They endured hardship, famine, severe climactic conditions and sickness. Their courage, steadfastness and perseverance etched our country's heritage and history.

Colonial Times

The first Military Engineers in Canada were French who in the early 1600s built a number of resource exploitation and strategic defence fortifications in Quebec and Acadia. Habitations at Ville de Quebec, Sainte-Croix and Port Royal are often cited. In 1685 the "ingenieurs du roi" became the first professional engineer force to be permanently established. They continued the process of building defence infrastructure and constructing civil works - such as dockyards and roads - and community structures. Much of their work was influential in creating a distinctive architecture for that period. The façade of the "Cathedrale du Quebec" stands today as a tribute.

With the arrival of British governance in 1763, Royal Engineers assumed the tradition of constructing for defence and national development. Canadian heritage records landmarks such as Fort Henry, Frontenac and William. The historically significant Rideau Canal strategic waterway was built circa 1832.

In 1855 the Province of Canada passed a Militia Act which provided that the Active Militia would, in time of peace, consist of specified numbers of volunteer troops. Effectively this was the birth of the Canadian Army. Although the Military Engineers were not named in that Act, another in 1863 made them a part. 

Confederation

In November 1871 the Royal Engineers paraded for the last time and departed Canada as the last British troops to leave. Canada was left ill prepared for defence, but attitudes derived out of the prevailing time of peace led to little in the way of military redress.

The 1899 Boer War clearly impressed upon Government the need for a permanent army. In this context the General Officer Commanding the Canadian Militia recommended the organization of a permanent corps of Military Engineers. The then Deputy Minister stated that "…the development of the Department…made it desirable that the Engineer Services be organized as a Military Branch…under military supervision and discipline." General Order 168 of November 1903 authorized a "Canadian Engineer Corps." In 1904 His Majesty the King approved use of the prefix "Royal."

The World Wars

During the "Great War", the Royal Canadian Engineers went to Europe with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Included were adjunct military engineers such as tunnellers, railway troops and foresters. More that 40,000 "Sappers" were involved, many sacrificing their lives on famous battlefields such as Somme and Vimy Ridge. Post war demobilization reduced the establishment to approximately 200.

Between the wars, the non-permanent force of Canadian Engineers joined with the Royal Canadian Engineers to form a new Corps of the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE). In 1938 the Corps was highly honoured when His Majesty the King became Colonel-in-Chief. As currently serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II is Colonel-in-Chief to the Canadian Military Engineers.

With the declaration of war in 1939, RCE units were reorganized and equipped. In December of that year, numbers had increased and a First Canadian Divisional Engineers was formed. The RCE was involved in the majority of Canadian operations, including those of Dieppe, North Africa, Italy, D-day, France, Holland and Germany. The end of war strength overseas was 18,000.

A Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Construction Engineering Branch was created in 1939, partly in response to the facilities need of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. War and post-war constructions were great in number - particularly airfields and strategic radar sites.

A Civil Engineering Branch of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) came into being at the beginning of WWII. Although very small in numbers, they achieved much of the construction of port facilities on Canadian shores.

Post-War and Unification

Military Engineers were called to arms during the Korean conflict. Involvement included road, bridge, airfield and camp constructions, as well as combat demolitions. 

The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act of 1968 led to the bringing together of Navy, Army and Air Force Engineers to form, in 1971, the Canadian Military Engineer Branch. As an integrated engineer force they continue to serve Canada at home and internationally. Military Engineers have mapped much of Canada and all of the High Arctic. In the North, Military Engineers led the way in building the strategic North Warning System, airfields and bridges. At present, Military Engineers are actively engaged in humanitarian missions, peacekeeping with the United Nations and NATO, providing airport and Navy fire, crash and rescue services, and international mapping and charting. In recent times they provided emergency civil engineering support to disasters such as the 1997 Manitoba flood and the 1998 Eastern Canada Ice Storm. The Canadian Military Engineers have acquired domestic and international acclaim for their work in anti-mine operations. Most recently, engineers have served in Afghanistan.

Our Stories

We have built a library of Engineer Heritage Moments comprising of stories collected from a wide range of sources over many years.  Watch this page for news of this feature. We are continually adding to this collection, so check every now and then to discover something new.