These Canadian Reservists Still Use 1940s-Era Rifles

Photo Credit: Wendy Gilmour / DoD

The Canadian Armed Forces have a branch dedicated to the surveillance and protection of isolated areas of northern Canada. They are called the Canadian Rangers, and they are specialized in surviving in the extremely treacherous and blisteringly cold environments they serve in. The force also acts as a military presence in areas so remote that it would be unfeasible to place large-scale military forces there.

Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers are to a certain extent considered always on-duty, as they live in the areas they operate in and remain observant as part of their daily lives.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Andrew Scheer greets Canadian Rangers in the Yukon.
Photo Credit: Andrew Scheer / Flickr, CC0

There are a total of 5,000 Canadian Rangers, and they serve in five Canadian Ranger patrol groups (CRPG), which all operate independently from each other based on their members and environment. The Rangers give a voice to, and protect the small indigenous communities they live in, and help to ensure the survival of these communities into the modern day.

The force dates back to 1942, when there were fears the Japanese could attempt to invade North America through northern territories. At the time, they were called the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers (PCMR) and were comprised of volunteers who monitored and protected the western coastlines of Canada. The PCMR was dissolved in 1945 after Japan’s surrender.

Much of the northernmost parts of Canada spend the entire year under a blanket of snow and can reach temperatures below -40°C. The Rangers are expected to be relatively self-sufficient and select their own tools and equipment. Much of this can be reimbursed by the government.

Lee-Enfield Rifle

Because of the extreme conditions under which they operate, the Canadian Rangers need dependable equipment that is guaranteed to work when they need it. Since 1947, the Rangers’ weapon of choice has been the Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle.

Canadian Rangers in Nunavut, Canada
Photo Credit: U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Canada / Flickr

The No. 4 is a version of the Lee-Enfield that entered service in 1941. The British Lee-Enfield rifle design entered service all the way back in 1895 and quickly became the British Empire’s primary firearm. By WWI, the rifle had been updated into the Short Magazine Lee–Enfield Mk III, which is the most well-known model. All of the Lee-Enfield variants had exceptional accuracy and rate of fire.

Their reliability and consistency meant they stayed in use with the British Empire and Commonwealth until 1957, when they were finally replaced as their main firearm by the L1A1 SLR. Despite this, the Lee-Enfield continued in use in lesser roles until the 1990s.

The Rangers’ rifles

The Lee-Enfield No. 4 was a simplified version introduced in 1941, which not only made the rifle stronger, but allowed for easier mass production. During WWII, Canada was producing weapons like the Lee-Enfield, but they were desperately needed elsewhere, so the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers had to make do with any guns they could get their hands on. As the war progressed and more rifles became available, Canada began supplying the PCMR with Lee-Enfields.

Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifle, as used by the Canadian Rangers
Photo Credit: Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum)

When the Canadian Rangers were established in 1947, they still used the Lee-Enfield as it had proven to be remarkably reliable in the Canadian environment, including the freezing arctic. Plus, enormous stocks of left-over .303 ammunition meant supplying the Rangers was much cheaper than alternative rifles. The rifles have remained in service ever since, as thanks to their ruggedness, stopping power, and accuracy, there has been no need for a different weapon.

Around 2010, the Canadian military began looking at a replacement for the Lee-Enfields as supplies of replacement parts were dwindling. They opted for the Colt C19, a license-built version of the Tikka T3 CTR bolt action rifle that has been adapted to use for the Rangers. These new rifles have enlarged trigger guards and bolt handles to allow the shooter to operate the weapon with gloves on.

More from us: The Real-Life Aircraft And Battles That Inspired ‘Star Wars’

Production of the C19 started in 2016, and deliveries of the rifle were received in 2018 and 2019. As their Lee-Enfields have now been replaced, the Canadian Armed Forces gifted the Rangers their trusty Lee-Enfields. We are happy to know that the rifles that served the Canadian Rangers so well have found good homes.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE