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Military/police handgun cartridges of Canada.

The United States and Canada are, in many ways, very similar: the English language, our democratic forms of government, capitalistic economies and that, historically, our populations were primarily made up of the descendents of immigrants who left other lands seeking freedom and opportunity-and found it here in North America

But while our countries and peoples are very similar, there have always been distinct differences between us. Historically the most significant was that while the United States rebelled against Great Britain to gain its freedom, the vast majority of Canadians remained loyal to the Crown. Canada's government, laws and traditions also have a distinctive "English" flavor (flavour?) to them, and her citizens have, in general, tended to be less "raucous" than their cousins to the south. While both of our nations underwent rapid westward expansions in the 19th century, Canada's was accomplished with significantly less violence than was ours (see "Guns of the Mounties," SGN 7/20/07 & 8/20/07).

Since the end of the War of 1812, the United States and Canada have been at peace and are proud of the fact that we have the longest unguarded border of any two nations in the world. As part of the British Empire, Canada was seen as a "safe" colony with no rapacious neighbors and, aside from the paramilitary North West Mounted Police (later the Royal Canadian Mounted Police--RCMP), for most of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Canada did not have an army, depending upon militia units that were called into service by Parliament in times of national emergency.


Because of their close association with Great Britain, the Canadian militia and, later, regular army have traditionally used British-pattern weaponry. The first metallic cartridge revolver adopted by the NWMP was the Pistol, Adams, Centrefire, BL, Mark l, which was followed by the improved Mark II and Mark III revolvers.

* .450 Revolver better known as the .450 Boxer or .450 Adams, this cartridge used a straight-walled case, .69" in length that had a riveted-on iron (Mark I) or brass (Mark II) disk which functioned as a rim. A charge of 13 grains of blackpowder propelled its 225-grain lead bullet to 650 fps.

As did their British counterparts, the Mounties found the Adams grossly underpowered and requested a revolver firing a more authoritative cartridge. Unfortunately, at the insistence of a parsimonious Parliament, they were saddled with one of the worst military revolvers of the 19th century--the Pistol, B.L., Enfield (Mark II), Interchangeable, better known as the Mark II Enfield.

* .476 Enfield, Mark I, II & III-Enfield revolvers were chambered for the "Cartridge SA Ball, Pistol Enfield Mark I" which utilized a drawn brass case .85" long containing 18 grains of blackpowder that moved its 265-grain lead bullet to 600 fps. There were three versions of the cartridge: The Mark I had a hollow based .455 bullet filled with a clay plug; the Mark. II did away with the clay plug; the Mark. Ill utilized a larger .476 bullet in an attempt to improve accuracy.

While the NWMP soldiered on with the Enfield, it was unpopular, and many Mounties and militia of ricers carried privately purchased revolvers. While some British revolvers were used, the majority of these were of American make with Colt and Smith & Wesson being the most popular brands and with large calibers such as the .45 Colt, .44 WCF and .44 S&W Russian predominating.


In the 1880s the NWMP began buying Smith & Wesson pocket revolvers for issue to high-ranking officers and constables working undercover. The most widely used models were the Double Action 1st Model and Safety Hammerless, both chambered for the .38 S&W cartridge.

* .38 Smith & Wesson-introduced in 1877, the .38 S&W was ideally suited to small pocket-type revolvers and was one of the most popular cartridges of the 19th century. The round was based upon a straight-walled, rimmed case .76" long containing 15 grains of blackpowder that propelled its 146-grain lead bullet to approximately 685 fps.

Large numbers of S&W, Colt and Webley revolvers in .38 S&W were also used by local police forces well into the 1960s. The Ontario Provincial Police issued the Webley Mark IV until it was replaced in the mid 1960s by the Colt Police Positive in .38 Special.

In 1885, with the outbreak of the Northwest Rebellion, the Canadian Department of Militia and Defense purchased 1,000 Colt M1878 Double Action Frontier Revolvers chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge. Additional M 1878s and numbers of Colt New Service revolvers were purchased around 1900 to equip Canadian troops being sent to South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War where they ably assisted the British in bringing the recalcitrant Boers to the negotiating table.

* .45 Colt-adopted by the U.S. Army in 1873, it proved one of the most popular revolver cartridges of the 19th century. The original load consisted of a 1.26-inch straight-walled, rimmed case topped with a 255-grain lead bullet that 40 grains of blackpowder propelled to 860 fps. (1)

In 1904, the Mounties also adopted the Colt New Service Revolver. While at first these revolvers were chambered for the .455 Webley, beginning in 1919, revolvers in both .455 and .45 Colt were purchased. Apparently the policy was to issue .455 revolvers to constables in the western provinces, North-West Territory, and Yukon, while those used in the eastern part of the country were chambered for the .45 Colt.

* Cartridge, .455, SA, Ball, Pistol, Revolver Webley, Cordite Mark l-adopted by the British Army in 1894, its .860" straight-walled; rimmed case contained 6.5 grains of Cordite and a 265-grain lead bullet moving at 600 fps. The big, slow-moving .455 bullet proved an excellent "man stopper" and Webley revolvers earned a reputation as serious fighting handguns. In the U.S. and Canada, the Mark I cartridge was often referred to as the ".455 Colt."


* Cartridge, .455 ... Mark II--in 1897, it was discovered that better propellant combustion could be achieved in a shorter case, so the Mark II's case was shortened to .750" but otherwise its performance was identical.

While she has always had a significantly smaller population than the United States, this population has traditionally been more law-abiding, and Canada has always enjoyed lower crime rates than her southern neighbor. While many British colonies adhered to the tradition of unarmed constables, like their American counterparts, Canadian police have always been armed.


Canadian police departments have adopted whatever revolver they found best suited their needs (or budgets!) and during the 19th and early 20th centuries, a wide variety was used. As on the American frontier, in Canada's western provinces large-caliber revolvers predominated, but most metropolitan police departments used smaller .32 and .38 cal. revolvers with Colt, Webley and S&W being the most popular brands.

In 1914. Canada showed her loyalty to the Mother Country and declared war on Germany and the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought With distinction on the Western Front for four, long, bloody years. While most Canadian troops were equipped with British pattern rifles, the Canadian government purchased S&W Hand Ejector revolvers in .455 cal. and Colt M1911 pistols to supplement the Colt New Service revolvers already in the hands of its troops, while: small numbers of British Webley Mark V and VI revolvers were also is-: sued.


* .45 ACP--the Colt M1911 was chambered for one of the most influential handgun cartridges of all times, consisting of a straight-walled rimless case .89" in length whose 230-grain full metal-jacketed (FMJ) bullet was pushed to approximately 850 fps.

In the postwar period, Canadian police forces began to upgrade their equipment. While some continued to use revolvers chambered for the .38 S&W, as was the case in the United States, increasing numbers of Canadian police agencies took revolvers chambered for the .38 Spl. into service.

* .38 S&W Spl.-introduced in 1899, the .38 Spl. would eventually become the most popular police cartridge in the Western Hemisphere. It utilized a straight-walled, rimmed case 1.14 inches in length loaded with the lead bullets of 158 or 200 grains at velocities ranging from 850 to 730 fps.


By the 1940s, the majority of Canadian police departments were armed with .38 Spl. revolvers, the most popular models being the S&W Military & Police and Colt Official Police.

* .38-44 S&W Special Hi-Speed-introduced in 1930, this was the .38 Spl. loaded with a 158-grain hardened lead or metal pointed bullet moving at 1175 fps and was intended to be fired from large-frame revolvers only. In the U.S., it proceed very popular with rural lawmen and highway patrol departments in the western states and was adopted .by the British Columbia-Provincial Police before that agency was incorporated into the RCMP.

In 1939, Canada declared war on Germany and sent troops to help defend Great Britain against Nazi aggression. Canadian troops were originally armed 'with the same handguns as were used during, the Great War, but approximately 100,000 S&W Military & Police (later known as the "Victory Model") revolvers, chambered for the .380 Mark 2 cartridge, were obtained. These were supplemented with small numbers of the British army's Pistol, No. 2 Mark I, .380 inch--better known as the No. 2 Enfield revolver and some Webley Mark IV revolvers. In addition to these revolvers, the Canadians also obtained some M1911A1 pistols from the USA.


* Cartridge, SA, Ball, .380 Mark 1, 2, & 2z--the Mark 1 cartridge utilized a straight-walled, rimmed case .79" long loaded with a 200-grain, blunt-nosed, lead bullet moving at approximately 605 fps and was commonly referred to as the .380/200. In 1938, so as to abide by international conventions, the (Cartridge: ... 380 Mark 2" was adopted with a 178-grain FMJ bullet moving at .700 fps. During World War II, the (Cartridge.... 380 Mark 2z (with nitro-cellulose powder replacing Cordite was adopted.

* Cartridge .455 ... Mark 6 & 6z--adopted in 1939, it featured a FMJ bullet of the same weight and velocity as the Mark II (see above). The later "Mark '6z" used nitro-cellulose powder instead of Cordite.

In 1943, John Inglis Company, Ltd. of Toronto, Ontario received a contact from the Nationalist Chinese government to manufacture the 9mm FN Browning Hi, Power pistol. After obtaining a license from FN's representatives, they began production of a model with a tangent rear sight and wooden holster/shoulder stock (No. 1 Marks 1 & 1*) and later produced a version with a standard rear sight (No. 2 Marks 1 & 1*). Numbers of the latter were supplied to the British and Canadian armies where they became favorites of airborne and commando forces. Production continued until 1945 with approximately 153,000 units being produced.


* S.A., Ball, 9mm, Mark 1z--the Hi-Power pistols were chambered for the popular 9mm Parabellum cartridge. As loaded in Canada, the Mark 1z used a 19mm, tapered, rimless case with a 116-grain FMJ bullet moving at an impressive 1250 fps.

The only notable change in the Canadian police handgun scene of the post-World War II years occurred in 1952, when the RCMP replaced the aging Colt New Service with the S&W Military & Police (a.k.a. Model 10) revolver and in the 1970s adopted the S&W Model 49 revolver for constables working undercover. While the 1960s saw more and more American police forces switching to .357 Mag. revolvers, the majority of Canadian agencies found the .38 Spl. met their requirements quite well.

But when American police began changing over from the revolver to semiauto pistols in the 1990s,. their Canadian brethren were not far behind. The RCMP was first off the mark when the Emergency Response Team adopted the 9mm SIG P226. In 1995, the Mounties replaced their long-serving Model 10 revolvers with S&W's Model 5946 and 3953 9mm semiauto pistols.


Since then, the vast majority of Canadian law-enforcement agencies have adopted either 9mm or .40 S&W pistols. As in the United States, the latter cartridge is more popular, and Canadian police used a variety of Glock, SIG, Walther, S&W and Beretta pistols.

* .40 S&W-developed in late 1980s, this cartridge uses a straight-walled, rimless case .85" in length. My inquiries have shown that most Canadian police departments equipped with this cartridge use a 180-grain load with a JHP bullet at a muzzle velocity of approximately 950-1000 fps.

The Canadian Forces (CF) still have considerable numbers of the 54,000 Inglis No. 2 Mark I* pistols produced during World War II in storage, and it remains the standard issue sidearm after 64 years! In the 1990s, the CF purchased several thousand SIG P225 pistols and, more recently, SIG P228s for issue to military police units.


* 9mm NATO--as a member of NATO, the Canadian Armed Forces now use the 9mm NATO pistol cartridge. This is nothing more than the venerable 9mm Parabellum loaded with either a 115- or 124-grain FMJ bullet with a velocity between 1160 and 1200 fps.

I would like to thank Grant Rombough and Kris Gasior (www. for providing information and photos used to prepare this report.

Photos by James Walters

(1) The Dominion Cartridge Company (DC Co. or DC) produced .45 Colt ammunition for the Canadian armed forces until the end of World War II.
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2009
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