Colonel has been a
military rank in the Canadian Army throughout the 20th Century, and
is described as being one of the oldest ranks in existence
throughout the world.
The spelling and pronunciation come from the British, who themselves
incorporated the rank into the British Army in the mid 1800s. Like
many military words in English, "colonel" was taken from the French
though the pronunciation comes from the Spanish word, Coronel.
The word "colonel" dates back to the Roman Army, where a colonel was
an officer responsible for a column of soldiers. The term
disappeared after the Romans, emerging again in medieval times to
designate a nobleman in command of a large number of troops.
When modern militaries began to evolve in the 1500s and Italian
soldiers were formed into regiments, or "colonne" (columns) in
Italian, the leader of such a unit was called a "colonnello"). The
leader of several columns was known as a Colonel General, a rank not
seen in Canada or Britain but common in other European militaries
such as the German Army (Generaloberst).
In British use, the term "colonel" came to designate a nobleman who
purchased the right to raise and lead a regiment. He in turn might
receive funds from another nobleman who wished to act as his
"lieutenant" or assistant, and he would therefore be known as a
As the practice of purchases and privately raised units began to
fade in the 1800s, "colonel" came less and less to designate a
professional officer in command of a regiment, and eventually
infantry and cavalry regiments were commanded by Lieutenant
The insignia for a colonel before Unification was two rank stars
with a rank crown above. After Unification, the insignia was changed
to four wide rows of rank braid.
Colonel became a rank associated with staff officers early in the
20th Century, though after Unification, the rank of Colonel was held
by officers commanding Militia Areas, and later Militia Brigades.
In the late 1990s, the standard rank for an Army brigade commander
became Colonel, a decision by the Chief of the Land Staff in line
with a decision in the early 1990s to downgrade Land Force Areas
from a Major General commander to a Brigadier General. Brigade
commanders were rolled back in rank to conform to this practice,
from Brigadier General to Colonel. A common concern in the early
1990s was the number of general officers in the Canadian military.
See also the articles on
Colonel of the
were addressed by rank and name; thereafter by subordinates as "Sir"