After joining the Victoria Rifles (a predecessor of the Queen’s Own Rifles) in Toronto, in 1861, William Dillon Otter (1843–1929), remaiend at the heart of the Canadian Militia until his retirement in 1920. He was a young captain at the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866, and, after joining the Permanent Force in 1883, occupied the post of first Commandant of the Infantry School in Toronto. In May 1885 he saw action while in charge of a column of troops at Cut Knife Hill in the Northwest Uprising. Later, from November 1899 to December 1900, he commanded the 2nd Special Service Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry, in the South African War, most notably at the Battle of Paardeburg in February 1900. Subsequently he served as the first Canadian Chief of the General Staff from 1908 to 1910 and as inspector general from 1910 to 1912. Knighted in 1913, during the First World War he held the position of officer commanding internment operations in Canada.

During the earlier part of his career Otter was devotee of the the practice of amateur photography, either taking himself, or arranging to have taken, pictures depicting various aspects of activities of the Canadian militia. These did not show the great dramatic moments such as Cut Knife Hill or Paardeburg, but, rather, scenes from the everyday life of the service, in which he was so very proud to be an officer. These photographs, pasted in albums, were long preserved by Otter’s descendants, along with his personal papers and correspondence. In 1991 they donated the collection to the Canadian War Museum, where they remain available for consultation and viewing in its new Military History Research Centre. A number of the photographs are reproduced here, both for the interesting scenes they depict of daily life in the Canadian Militia at the time when a Canadian military culture was being born, and as examples of the kind of photographic holdings that are available at the Canadian War Museum.