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Ross MkI: Canada’s First Battle Rifle

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Sir Charles Ross was heir to a very wealthy Scottish family, and was a talented if temperamental engineer. He took an interest in firearms and their design, and worked with American and English connections to produce a line of his own straight–pull sporting rifles. Upon returning from the Boer War he looked to expand into the military market.

At this same time, the Canadian government was looking to replenish its arms supplies after the war, and requested Enfield rifles form the British. The request was turned down, as Britain did not have enough supply to spare any form the Canadians. The Canadians were expected to construct their own factory to make rifles oft he standard British pattern. Well, the Canadian government was not eager to invest that sort of capital into the project. They investigated buying arms elsewhere, but the consensus was that Canada’s armaments should come from either Britain or from within Canada itself. No good solution was apparent until Sir Charles Ross stepped in.

Ross offered to fund the construction of a factory himself, and use Canadian labor and industry to manufacture Ross rifles for the military. This seemed like an excellent solution – for zero initial cash outlay, the Canadian government would get rifles both designed and produced domestically! The rifles would be chambered for the standard .303 British cartridge, thus handling the British objections about arms compatibility (Ross pointed out that the British themselves used something like 7 different patterns of rifle at the time).

In 1902, Ross and the Canadian government signed a contract for 12,000 rifles to be made in 1903 and 10,000 per year thereafter, at the price of $25 each. In addition to the Canadian military, the Royal North West Mounted Police also adopted the new Ross rifle. Deliveries did not actually begin until 1905, and when they did plenty of disturbing problems arose. The rifles proved fragile and unreliable – and a weak bolt latch periodically allowed the bolt to fall completely out of the rifle on parade drill – not a good start!

Only 10,000 of the Mark I Ross rifles were made, and an improved Mark II pattern would follow as quickly as Ross could make it a reality.

Many thanks to the private collectors who allowed me access to their rifles to make this video!

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