During the Pearson Government, in the mid-sixties, Defence Minister Paul Hellyer, undertook “unification” of the separate Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force services into a single Canadian Defence Force. The unification came into effect on February 1, 1968.
The move was considered by its designers to be a practical and rational way to organize armed forces on the scale required by a middle power like Canada.
Predictably, unification ignited a firestorm of opposition. The various branches – and their veterans – loudly opposed what they saw as an abnegation of tradition and military heritage. They fought the phasing out of the distinctive green, grey and blue uniforms of the respective services and bemoaned the compression of heraldry and traditions.
Unification can be seen in the larger context of the modernizations of “Canadianization” that began in the mid Sixties and continued through to the early Eighties: the adoption of the Canadian Flag, the Centennial Celebration, Official Bilingualism, the transformation of Dominion Day to Canada Day, the patriation of the Constitution. These moves left many traditionalists fuming.
Notably, Armed Forces Unification is the only one of the modernization changes that has not proven permanent. It has largely been reversed through the subsequent decades. In 2011, the Canadian Forces Maritime and Air commands and Land Force Commands, were restored to their respective pre-unification styles as the Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force and Canadian Army.1 Like the original decision, this move was not without criticism.
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