By the early 1980s, there were growing signs that Canadian public opinion was at long last coming around to the realization that the armed forces had been cut to the bone and in some cases, beyond. Both Liberals and Conservatives promised modest increases in the armed forces in the 1979 election ,and public discontent over the failure of the Liberals to live up to the commitment played a not insignificant role in the landslide victory of Brian Mulroney's Conservatives in 1984. Commanding officers of the LER who had suffered in silence for years at last began to speak out. When Lieutenant-Colonel C.G. Marshall took over in February of 1982, he made a very frank statement about DND policies. Numbers had recovered to about ninety all ranks by that time, and the authorized strength had been moved up from 154 to 266, but that was not the whole story. "While on the one hand they tell us our authorized strength is 266, they tell us on the other hand that there is a 'paid ceiling' which is considerably lower and that we are over strength." (35) Numbers continued to creep up, however, and, in 1983, it was possible to reclaim the band, which had been forced to combine with the Air Reserve band to survive. By 1986, the band was back up to full strength once again, with new uniforms purchased by donations.
The LER continued jump training with the Airborne and got a chance to demonstrate their skills in an international Combat Security Team competition organized by the United States Air Force in 1985. In spite of the fact that it was one of the few non-regular force groups entered, the LER placed fifteenth of thirty-five teams in 1985 and eighth of thirty-three teams in 1986. (36) Training exercises in this period took members of the LER from as far south as Texas and New Mexico to Gjoa Haven in the far north. The Mulroney government might have promised major increases in defence spending, but it took its time putting the talk into action. Not until 1987 did Defence Minister Perrin Beatty produce the government's new plan for the armed forces, Challenge and Commitment. It promised an expansion of the reserves from 18,000 to 40,000 as well as new equipment. For the LER, this meant an increase in authorized strength from 140 to 160. In 1987, the regiment got its first new equipment in many years with the issue of new pattern uniforms and the C-6 machine gun. (37) Another sign of change was the assignment of two soldiers from the regiment to the Canadian peacekeeping force in Cyprus.
In the early 1980s, several events led the Forty-Ninth Battalion, The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Association to begin to work actively for the creation of a museum. The 'Last Post' section of The Forty-Niner was starting to fill up with obituaries of those who had served with the LER in the Second World War. In a bizarre episode in 1983, General Griesbach's sword, which had been on display in city hall, was stolen. The sword was quickly recovered, but it had been damaged and needed to be sent to England for repair. The numerous other objects associated with the regiment's history were in even more precarious circumstances; a flood at Griesbach Barracks in the summer of 1982 had threatened to destroy irreplaceable items. About this same time the city acquired control of the Prince of Wales Armoury building. It was designated a historic site by the provincial government, which brought an end to talk of demolishing it for commercial or residential development. Just what to use the building for was a matter of extensive public discussion but it seemed obvious to the Association that this would be an ideal location for a regimental museum.
A Museum Foundation was incorporated in 1986 under the chairmanship of CWO Chris Atkin, who had been actively working on the idea for several years and who might well have thought twice about taking on the job had he known how long it would take. (38) The society began fund-raising, undertook negotiations with the city about use of the space (it was not as immediately obvious to all city officials that the regimental museum should be located there), and sought advice from the Provincial Museum about how best to organize and display the items in its possession. The society also began a very successful drive to collect more objects associated with the regiment's history. In 1991, five years after negotiations began, an agreement was reached with the city that provided 2400 square feet of display space as well as some basement storage in the refurbished building.
Once the space was secured, all that was needed was money for renovating it into a museum. While there were donations and members of the Association worked casinos, it was never enough. Volunteer construction labour helped make up the difference, and additional assistance came from the city in the form of an agreement to waive rent on the space in 1995. (39) In December of 1996, Chris Atkin was able to report that the museum was open. There was still a great deal of work to do to bring the museum up to its final form and a flood in the basement storage area in 1998 damaged some items, but the project had provided a permanent home at last for the collective memory of the regiment.
As the work on the museum was getting under way, the regiment celebrated its 75th anniversary during the May long weekend in 1990. There was a church parade and a picnic at Camp Harris. The highlight of the anniversary was a parade of the colours and inspection by the honourary Colonel-in-Chief of the PPCLI, Lady Patricia Brabourne, Countess Mountbatten of Burma. For some veterans, the participation of Colonel Jim Stone and three original Forty-Niners was even more significant, and they did not hesitate to say so. Resentment at the submergence of the identity of the LER as part of the PPCLI had been present for more than thirty years, but this was the first time it came out in public. (40)
The modest flow of new money for the militia in the late 1980s brought with it not only modernized equipment and more intense training but also heavier responsibilities for the 1990s. The steady erosion of the regular force meant that militia units like the LER would have to be trained to a level which would allow their soldiers to reinforce regular units on short notice. Canada's heavy peacekeeping commitments in the last decade of the twentieth century could not have been met without the participation of the reserves. Thus the LER was re-equipped with the C-7 rifle and the C-9 light machine gun in 1991. Jump training that year included a trip to Reno in May for a group of twenty soldiers who participated in a joint exercise with American forces. At Wainwright, training was carried out on the new Bison light armoured vehicle. (41)
The world was changing very rapidly in the early 1990s, and a complex combination of events brought a changed role, but no lighter responsibilities, for the LER. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 seemed to reduce the need for armed force everywhere, and there was widespread talk of a 'peace dividend.' This quickly proved to be an illusion as the end of the cold war created power vacuums that led to fierce regional conflicts in Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans. Canada's participation in the Gulf War, mainly naval and air elements, cost the country close to $700 million. That unexpected expense at a time of economic difficulty led the government of Brian Mulroney to reverse its program of increased military spending. The regular forces were cut from 82,000 to 76,000, mostly by eliminating Canada's NATO force in Europe and pulling our peacekeepers out of Cyprus. The ceiling on reserves dropped from 40,000 to 30,000.
Training and morale suffered, a fact that became all too evident with the disastrous deployment of the Airborne Regiment in Somalia. The highly publicized death of a Somali teenager at the hands of Canadian soldiers led directly to the end of the twelve-year association between the LER and the Airborne, even before it was disbanded in 1995. (42) Jump training was no longer part of the LER's task, and the unit would now prepare itself for a reconnaissance role. Money was once again critically short. The new Liberal government came to office in 1993 with control of spending as its major priority and without even the Mulroney government's theoretical commitment to a stronger military. The regular forces were reduced further to 60,000 and for the militia, funding for parade days and ammunition was severely restricted.
The breakup of the former state of Yugoslavia resulted in murderous fighting and 'ethnic cleansing' among the various groups that made up its population. The United Nations intervened, and Canada contributed first one, then two battalions to the peacekeeping force. The LER was well represented from the beginning. Twenty volunteers from the regiment went out with the first rotation, 10 with the second, and 23 with the third. (43) Although it was called peacekeeping, in many cases it was closer to a combat situation. In September of 1993, 2PPCLI became involved in a week-long fire fight with Croatian troops in the Medak Pocket. Because Canada was in the middle of an election campaign, the public did not hear about the battle until many months later. Soldiers from the LER continue to serve with the PPCLI and Lord Strathcona's Horse in Croatia.
Part of the downsizing of the armed forces in the early 1990s involved the closure of a number of bases across the country. One result was that many of the army operations in western Canada were consolidated at Edmonton. This put increased pressure on the already overcrowded facilities at Griesbach and made a new home for the regiment an urgent necessity. With the federal deficit under control, Ottawa was more inclined to listen to requests. Negotiations spearheaded by Honourary Colonel Bob Chapman were successful and led to the opening of the splendid new James Curry Jefferson building in 2001. The LER had once again made it through hard and uncertain times and could look forward to active participation in the defence of Canada in the new century.
- 35. The Forty-Niner, October, 1982, 54.
- 36. The Forty-Niner, October, 1986, 4.
- 37. The Forty-Niner, October, 1988, 50.
- 38. The Forty-Niner, October, 1986, 22.
- 39. The Forty-Niner, November, 1995, 7.
- 40. Alberta Report, 11 June, 1990; B. Olson, "Another View," The Forty-Niner, November, 1990, 24.
- 41. The Forty-Niner, November, 1991, 7-8.
- 42. The Forty-Niner, November, 1994, 17.
- 43. The Forty-Niner, November, 1993, 6.