The Commissionaires was founded in England in 1859 by Captain Edward Walter, a retired cavalry officer who, during and after the Crimean War, was unhappy with the status of former soldiers and sailors who had served their time in the armed forces and were thereafter unwanted by society. His aim was to provide dignified and worthwhile employment for veterans who were without any pensions and without prospects of employment.
Commissionaires UK 1859-1865
In 1915 the Duke of Connaught, then Governor General of Canada, suggested that a similar organization be formed in Canada. It would be patterned on the Corps in England and provide a livelihood for unemployed veterans of World War I. On 25 July 1925, a Federal Charter was approved and the three original Companies were established in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver.
March 18, 1928
During WWII, the flow of ex-servicemen into the Commissionaires was reversed as a number of younger members went back on active service. When hostilities ended, the ranks of the Commissionaires swelled, particularly with members of the Veterans’ Guard who, having served in both World Wars and getting on in years, faced a rather difficult rehabilitation problem. Today there are seventeen divisions from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island employing over 17,000 Commissionaires.
The Victoria and Vancouver Island Division was established in 1937 with just 16 members. It has grown along with the communities on Vancouver Island providing a wide range of services to government, business and industry. In its 74th year, the Division currently maintains operations and administrative responsibility for security and related services in many communities on Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii and the Gulf Islands. With the addition of the detachment in Whitehorse in 1999, the name was changed to Victoria, the Islands and Yukon Division to reflect our areas of business. Currently the Division has approximately 1000 employees making it one of the largest security enterprises in British Columbia.
In the early days of the organization, the primary role of a Commissionaire was security work. However, men and women leaving the Armed Forces and the RCMP now have a variety of technical and administrative skills which are useful in many ways to clients across Canada. The opportunity to broaden the employment prospects of these talented and experienced people is being actively pursued.
All 17 divisions of the Commissionaires are private, self-supporting, non-profit corporations. Each Division has a voluntary Board of Governors comprised of former senior members of the CF and RCMP along with local business executives. Their duty is to continue the vision of Captain Walters by providing employment for ex-service and RCMP personnel. In this they are supported by a full-time Chief Executive Officer/Commandant who is responsible for leading and managing the Division.
In June 1937, His Excellency the Governor General, Lord Tweedsmuir, became the first Patron-in-Chief of the Corps, and the Lieutenant-Governors were asked to become Patrons. These traditional appointments have continued and His Excellency, The Governor General is the Patron-in-Chief. Her Honour, Judith Guichon, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia is the Patron of Commissionaires Victoria, the Islands and Yukon.