Former ranks of the Canadian Forces

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Before Unification as the Canadian Armed Forces in 1968, the Canadian military had three distinct services: the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Canadian Army. All three services had a Regular (full-time) component and a reserve (part-time) component. The rank structure for these services were based on the services of the British military, the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the British Army. The change to a "Canadian" rank structure meant that many of the traditional (British) rank titles and insignia were removed or changed.

Relative ranks and responsibilities[edit]

The ranks of the new Canadian Forces did not match up exactly with the ranks (and attendant responsibilities) of the old system.

In the army, for example, an infantry platoon would have a sergeant for a second in command and a staff sergeant would serve as a company quartermaster sergeant. In the new Canadian Forces, however, a warrant officer would fill both those roles. While an infantry section was commanded by a corporal pre-unification, after unification that task fell on a sergeant. The rank of corporal in the army was especially downgraded in terms of responsibility; before unification a Canadian corporal was the equivalent of a sergeant in most other armies due to his responsibility as a section commander. After unification, the rank of corporal became nothing more than a pay raise with authority being granted instead to the new master corporals. Equivalents in the table below are very approximate, then.

Canadian Forces
Maritime Command (1968-2011),
RCN (2011-)
Royal Canadian
(before 1968)
Canadian Forces
(Land Force Command (from 2011 Canadian Army),
Air Command (RCAF from 2011)
Canadian Army before 1968 Royal Canadian
Air Force (before 1968))
Flag Officers General Officers Air Officers
Admiral Admiral General General Air Chief Marshal
Vice Admiral Vice Admiral Lieutenant General Lieutenant General Air Marshal
Rear Admiral Rear Admiral Major General Major General Air Vice Marshal
Commodore Commodore Brigadier General Brigadier Air Commodore
Captain (N) Captain Colonel Colonel Group Captain
Commander Commander Lieutenant Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Wing Commander
Lieutenant Commander Lieutenant Commander Major Major Squadron Leader
Lieutenant (N) Lieutenant Captain Captain Flight Lieutenant
Sub Lieutenant Sub Lieutenant Lieutenant Lieutenant Flying Officer
Acting Sub Lieutenant Acting Sub Lieutenant Second Lieutenant Second Lieutenant Pilot Officer
Naval Cadet Midshipman Officer Cadet Officer Cadet Officer Cadet
(Flight Cadet before 1962)
Non-Commissioned personnel
Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Chief Warrant Officer Warrant Officer Class I Warrant Officer Class I
Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Master Warrant Officer Warrant Officer Class II Warrant Officer Class II
Petty Officer 1st Class Petty Officer 1st Class Warrant Officer Staff Sergeant Flight Sergeant
Sergeant Sergeant
Petty Officer 2nd Class Petty Officer 2nd Class Sergeant Corporal Corporal
Master Seaman Leading Seaman Master Corporal Lance Corporal
Leading Seaman Corporal Private Leading Aircraftman
Aircraftman Class 1
Aircraftman Class 2
Able Seaman Able Seaman Private (Trained)
Ordinary Seaman Ordinary Seaman Private (Basic) Recruit

Certain ranks have alternative titles according to tradition and the trade of the soldier.

The rank of Private (trained) uses the following names (note that all privates prior to receiving their trade qualifications are called privates)
  • Royal Canadian Armoured Corps – trooper
  • Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery – gunner
  • Royal Canadian Engineers – sapper
  • Royal Canadian Corps of Signals - signaller
  • Royal Canadian Infantry Corps
    • Guards regiments – guardsman
    • Rifle regiments – rifleman
    • Fusilier regiments – fusilier
  • Electrical and Mechanical Engineers – craftsman
  • Royal Canadian Air Force - aviator
Lance corporals
  • Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery – lance bombardier
  • Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery – bombardier
Master corporals
  • Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery – master bombardier

Pre-Unification Services[edit]

Pre-unification RCN[edit]

The RCN used the rank and insignia of the RN.

Pre-unification army[edit]

Army officers' insignia before unification consisted of several rank badges based on British Army designs:

  • The star of the Order of the Bath, commonly called a "pip", in sequence of one, two or three as necessary.
  • The crown, being a St. Edward's Crown after 1953 (sometimes called a "queen's crown") and a Tudor Crown (sometimes called a "king's crown") before the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne.
  • The Mameluke sword, crossed by a baton, was used in general officer's insignia.

Army warrant officers also used rank badges based on British designs:

  • A warrant officer class I wore the coat of arms of Canada; before the 1950s, the British royal coat of arms was worn.
  • A warrant officer class II wore a crown (either St. Edward's pattern or Tudor pattern, as described under officers' insignia above) within a wreath.
  • During the Second World War, a warrant officer class III had worn a plain crown; this rank was abolished in practice during, and officially after, the war.

Finally, Army NCOs also used rank badges based on British designs:

  • Rank badges were constructed from white herringbone lace sewn into 1-, 2-, or 3-bar chevrons. A crown was worn over the chevrons for staff sergeants.

Pre-unification RCAF[edit]

The RCAF used the rank and insignia of the RAF.

Unified Canadian Forces[edit]

The most noticeable change in rank insignia after Unification was the deletion of British stars and crowns on officer's shoulder boards. Instead, a series of gold stripes was instituted, similar to the pre-unification naval and air force rank system in concept but very different in appearance. Warrant officers retained the traditional army-style rank badges, and NCOs' chevrons were also changed, being smaller and made from newer material, similar to US Army NCO badges in the 1960s. The maple leaf also featured on NCO badges, even being worn over a private's one-bar chevron in initial issues of the new insignia in the years immediately after unification.[1]

Generals' and admirals' insignia remained similar to pre-unification army insignia, with maple leaves replacing the stars, but retaining the crown and crossed sabre and baton. A wide band of gold braid was also used, similar to pre-unification naval insignia worn by admirals. Naval officers of flag rank removed the rank epaulettes on the service dress on June 11, 2010, when the executive curl was reinstated with additional sleeve ribbon for the admiral ranks.

Changes: navy[edit]

Naval rank titles remained for the personnel of the new Maritime Command. On the Canadian Forces service uniform, the rank insignia of officers up to the rank of naval Captain followed the old Royal Canadian Navy pattern but with the executive curl deleted. However, the executive curl was permitted on naval mess dress for all naval officers. In 1985 a new naval service uniform was announced and was introduced into service over the following three years.

Changes: army[edit]

While the insignia for non-commissioned personnel of the CF very closely matched that of the pre-unification army, there were some changes and new classes of ranks were created. The army had previously had general officers, officers, warrant officers, senior NCOs, junior NCOs, and men. All personnel that were not officers were referred to collectively as "other ranks". After unification, other ranks became known as non-commissioned members (NCMs). The category of senior NCOs now included only one rank – that of sergeant – whereas before it had included both staff sergeants and sergeants. There were also three grades of warrant officer, whereas immediately before unification there had been only two.

The appointments of lance corporal and lance sergeant were deleted. Originally, there were only privates and corporals below the rank of sergeant. Those corporals with leadership training came to be referred to as "B" corporals (for having completed Part B of the leadership training) and started to wear a crown over their two chevrons. Eventually the crown was changed to a maple leaf surmounting the chevrons, and the appointment of master corporal was created after much hostility and confusion within the ranks regarding who would be providing leadership at the lowest levels of Mobile Command (the new name for what used to be the Army).

Changes: air force[edit]

The distinctive air force rank titles were eliminated, and Air Command used the same rank titles as Mobile Command.

Post-unification Canadian Forces[edit]

On June 11, 2010 the executive curl was reinstated for use by all naval officers, but the rank of midshipman was not reinstated, and the rank of naval cadet stayed on. The rank insignia for non-commissioned members continued to be based on army pattern insignia.

On 8 July 2013 the Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, announced that Canadian Army officers would once again wear "pips and crowns", signalling a return to the pre-unification rank insignia. The final product was a return to the rank insignia used before 1920 by the army, with the reinstatement of the brigadier-general insignia of crossed sabre and baton.

Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, announced on 8 July 2013 the Government of Canada's intent to restore Canadian Army rank insignia, names and badges to their traditional forms. The first stage was to be done before the end of the year for the officer corps, and resulted to a return to the pre-1968 rank insignia, but brigadier generals instead had the pre-1920 insignia (and not the 1928–66 insignia for brigadiers) reinstated. All other army officers had by November 11, 2014, insignia based on the old pre-1968 pattern. In 2016, the Canadian Army ordered that general officer rank insignia would be modified to a version of the insignia worn under the unification era, except that it would conform to the traditional Canadian Army style in using the same metal pin-on ranks as other Canadian Army officers instead of the slightly different cloth badging worn under unification.

In 2015 the rank of private was changed to aviator within the Royal Canadian Air Force. The RCAF insignia were also changed from gold to the grey/silver colouring that existed prior to unification. As this restoration done with the aim of carrying on the traditions of the RCAF, and also of the First World War–era Royal Flying Corps (and other CAF air branches), it did not signify a wholesale reversion to the post–Second World War–era RCAF ranks.

On April 1, 2016 the Canadian Army announced that it will begin using the Maple Leaf ranks for Generals as well as reinstating gold sleeve braids on an officer's tunic cuffs. The insignia, however, will use metal pin-ons instead of the unification cloth badges. To honor the centennial of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on 1 April 2017, the Vimy Star, composed of a red maple leaf within a diamond and surrounded by the latin motto "VIGILAMUS PRO TE" (we stand on guard for thee, based on the lyrics of the National Anthem O Canada and the official motto of the Army), replaced the Bath Star in officer shoulder boards.


External links[edit]

A complete guide to pre-Unification Army insignia and ranks can be found at