Timeline: Weapons

1860 – The Enfield, as issued to the regiment in 1860, was of .577 calibre, muzzle loading, and with a three-groove barrel. It weighed almost nine pounds and a long sword could be fitted. The charge was fired by means of a percussion cap placed on a projection fitted with an ignition chamber leading to the powder. The ball or bullet, which was rammed down the muzzle, had a little iron cup in the hollowed base. On firing, the gases forced the cup into the bullet, thus giving a gas-tight fit which helped to give both range and accuracy. At best, though, its accuracy was limited. [2] p354

Pattern 1853 Enfield

21 February 1867 – Old Enfield rifles and bayonets were returned to provincial stores at Toronto [1] p71

26 February 1867 – Battalion receives 600 Spencer repeating rifles. As the issue was only a temporary measure pending receipt of breech-loaders, the Imperial Government didn’t sanction the marking of the arms. [1] p71

In anticipation of the Militia’s requirements during the Fenian raids of 1866, Canada purchased a limited number of lever-action model 1865 Spencer Rifles from the Burnside manufacturing company in the United States. These rifles were equipped with a 7 shot tubular magazine which extended into the wooden butt of the rifle. The lever action of this rifle improved the ability to fire rounds very quickly although, the black powder smoke created during quick firing, could impede the field of view.  The Spencer used a 56-50 inch (14.2 – 12.7mm) cartridge that had a muzzle velocity greater than the Snider-Enfield on issue. The Spencer cartridge is slightly tapered and measures .56 inch (14.2mm) at the base and .50 inch (12.7mm) at the case mouth.

During the 1866 Fenian battle of Limeridge, near Ridgeway ON, one company of The Queen’s Own used these Spencer rifles even though the company did not have enough ammunition to properly support their faster firepower needs.

Spencer Repeating Rifle used (with limited ammunition) by No. 5 Company during the Fenian Raid of 1866 and issued to the whole battalion 16 March 1867.

6 March 1867 – “Spencers” issued to companies and the men instructed in their use [1] p71

14 June 1867 – General Orders stated that arrangements had been made for the exchange of the Spencer rifles for Snider Enfield breech-loading rifles. The order continued “The exchange will be made with the least possible delay, to effect which depots of these rifles and of ammunition for the same will be formed at Quebec, Montreal, Prescott, Kingston, Toronto and London, from whence district staff officers may draw to supply the corps in their several districts.” [1] p72

Snider Enfield
Snider Enfield

9 October 1867 – Weekly drill commenced for the year 1867-68 when the long Snider-Enfield rifles received the preceding month were issued. [1] p72

This became the standard rifle for many years. To speed up the loading process, these muzzle loading Enfield rifles were modified to fire rimmed cartridges of the same .577 caliber. This change was accomplished by cutting out a section of the breech and fitting in a new breech block which lifted up and swung to the right. The percussion cup holder and ignition hole now contained a obliquely placed firing pin along with a safety cap. After modification, the rifle was known as the Snider-Enfield. To fire the rifle, the Rifleman cocked the hammer, opened up the breech, pulled the breech block back to extract a fired case and, after inserting a metal-cased cartridge into the chamber, the breech block was closed. When the trigger was pulled, the hammer struck the firing pin which in turn ignited the primer of the cartridge. The.577 inch bullet weighed 480 grains; the powder 70 grains. The cartridge had a muzzle velocity of 1,240 feet per second. In 1877, the five grooved Short Snider-Enfield was introduced. [2] p354

1871 – In 1871 the British adopted the Martini-Henry rifle. The Martini-Henry was issued to The Royal Canadian Regiment but was not a general issue to the Militia. The bore was .450 inches and, in general, it was a more accurate rifle than the Snider-Enfield. The North-West Rebellion, 1885, brought out clearly that the Winchesters used by the rebels were better rifles than the Snider-Enfields used by the Militia. Ceaseless pressure was kept on Ottawa to bring about an improvement.

short lever Canadian Martini Henry
Short levered Canadian Martini Henry

1897 – In England modifications continued with the box magazine, and the needle and bolt action of the Lee-Metford. Further modification produced the Lee-Enfield. The Queen’s Own were issued the long Lee-Enfield and the Maxim single barreled machine gun in 1897. The Maxim held the field until the Vickers and Lewis took over just before World War I. [2] p354

1902 – The short Lee-Enfield was adopted in 1902. The Lee-Enfield had the new .303 calibre; fired a 215-grain cupro-nickel covered bullet; and used only 30.5 grains of the new cordite. The muzzle velocity was 2,000 feet per second. Thus the rifle had less weight, less recoil, greater penetration and a flatter trajectory than the previous model. The increased accuracy was very marked. [2] p355

Short Magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) #1 Mk3
Short magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE)

1910 – During 1910 the Canadian government equipped the Army with the Ross rifle. The Ross was a finely-machined target rifle but it could not stand service conditions. Rapid firing usually caused the extractors to fail. The troops, together with public opinion during World War I, forced the withdrawal of the Ross and the adoption of the short Lee-Enfield. [2] p355

Ross Rifle

1939 – The short Lee-Enfield was supplanted in 1939 by the No. 4 Mark 1*. This  too was .303 calibre, used a rimmed centre fire cartridge and had a manually-operated bolt. The magazine was of the bolt type and held ten staggered rounds. It was claimed that the chief reason for replacing the S.M.L.E. was that it was not built for fine shooting. Bedding was required to stop barrel vibration. This statement is disputed by some, particularly the Australians. Australian marksmen still use [in 1960] the S.M.L.E. but equipped with a heavier barrel bedded in wood. It is true, however, that the No. 4 performed satisfactorily throughout World War II. [2] p355

Lee Enfield No. 4 Mk 1

1958 – By 1958 the .303 caliber #4 Lee Enfield rifle was replaced by a Canadian manufactured derivative of the Belgium Fabrique Nationale (FN) semi-automatic rifle. After some initial production changes, it was known as the FNC1A1 that fired the 7.62mm (308 cal) NATO standard cartridge. The .303 caliber BREN [2] p355 gun was soon replaced by the fully automatic FNC2 which was a heavy barreled version of the FNC1 rifle incorporating a folding bipod.  Large numbers of the FNC1 and FNC2 were manufactured under license by the Canadian Arsenals Limited company.


1984 – The development of the C7 assault rifle paralleled that of the M16A2 by Colt. Canada made improvements over the U.S. model and set up Canadian manufacturing at Diemaco (now Colt Canada) located in Kitchener, ON. In 1988, the Canadian C7 rifle was produced and it was the first fully-automatic standard issue rifle issued to Canadian forces. This rifle was similar to the standard M16A1 rifle used by the United States although, it had many improvements such as a hammer forged barrel and fully automatic fire capability.


The C7A1 was the first major change to the production model that involved replacing the iron sight/ carrying handle with a 3.4 power C79 optical sight manufactured by Ernst Leitz Canada (ELCAN) located in Midland ON.

A mid-life update to the C7A1 introduced the C7A2 automatic rifle. This update included ambidextrous controls, low infrared signature and an extendable butt.

A carbine version of the C7A1 is known as the C8A1, and features a shortened barrel/fore stock and collapsible butt.


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3 thoughts on “Timeline: Weapons”

  1. Your article on the Snider enfield describes how its breach-loading mechanism worked and then states that it was loaded through the muzzle. The snider was a breach-loader made by modifying the old enfield Brown Bess which it replaced. Which rifle did the QOR use at Ridgeway?


    1. Terence – not quite sure how that incorrect info happened but thank you for bringing that to our attention and we’ve made the appropriate edits. As noted above the QOR used the muzzle loading Enfields at Ridgeway in 1866 except for the one company issued with Spencer repeaters.


  2. There are some errors in the description of the Spencer rifle. The .56-.50 Spencer was actually .50 calibre, not “.560 bore” as stated … Spencer cartridges were named in an unusual way – the first number (.56) actually refers to the decimal inch diameter of the cartridge case just ahead of the rim, the second (.50) refers to the actual calibre. (There was, in fact, a .56-.56 Spencer cartridge, but the rifles and carbines acquired by Canada in 1866 were all chambered for the .56-.50 cartridge.) The other significant error is the statement: “Sometimes the point of one cartridge fired the cap of the cartridge ahead and an explosion resulted.” This is, in fact, an impossibility with the rimfire cartridges used in the Spencer – they were NOT centerfire and thus did not have a “cap”(primer) that could be detonated by the bullet nose of a following cartridge. (This hazard IS a possibility in tube-magazine firearms using centerfire cartridges with pointed bullets, but was NOT a problem for the Spencer.)


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