W. Bro. Sir William Dillon Otter


By R. W. Bro. Paul Skazin

Initiated in Ionic Lodge in February 1869; installed as Wor. Master in 1873. He was born on December 3, 1843 near Clinton, Upper Canada. His father was a farmer in the area but subsequently moved to Toronto.

William Otter is often regarded as Canada's first professional soldier. In 1861 Otter entered the volunteer militia. The year 1864 saw him commissioned in the Queen's Own Rifles. He fell in love with the military way of life, served initially as a rifleman and quickly progressed to the rank of Staff Sergeant. He first saw active service in the Fenian Raids of 1866 at the Battle of Ridgeway, where the Canadians squandered an easy victory due to confusion in commands. Upon his promotion in 1875, Lieutenant Colonel Otter assumed command of The Queen's Own Rifles. The permanent force's School of Infantry, in Toronto was under his command from 1883 to 1889.

From his pen came the infantry manual, 'The Guide", which became an indispensable soldier's handbook and went into many editions. During the Riel Rebellion of 1885 he was sent to the N.W. Territories to assist General Frederick Middleton. Upon news of the murder of white settlers at Frog Lake, he was placed in charge of a column to relieve the town of Battleford and surrounding areas from the threat of Indian attack. In 1899 at the time of the Boer War, Otter took the first Canadian contingent, The Royal Canadian Regiment, to South Africa. It consisted of eight 125 men units. Although untrained, Otter formed them into a fighting unit within 3 months.

Otter had a no nonsense, no frills approach to soldiering, his convictions set by his memory of young militiamen fleeing in panic at Ridgeway. He was grimly determined that Canadian troops would not again fall into disarray on the battlefield. Upon him rested the responsible for drilling and disciplining Canadian troops in South Africa, ensuring they were equals to the British regulars. Many British officers considered the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry to be the best in South Africa.

Otter was the first Canadian-born Chief of Staff of Canada's military (1908 -1910). During World War I he was Director of Internment Operations of enemy nationals resident in Canada. He was knighted in 1913 and retired in 1920 as General Sir William Otter.

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