Canadian Army Action Figures (The original version of this page has been lost in a computer malfunction and has been reconstructed. Thanks to Kevin Merkley and Brian Bell for their assistance with the original.)
The Golden Era
The first mass produced Canadian Army action figures were released as part of the new line of "G.I. Joe" toys released by Hasbro in the early 1960s.
Adventure Team Mountie
As the Vietnam War raged, interest in military oriented toys declined in the United States, and consequently, Canada, and Hasbro retooled its G.I. Joe line by introducing the "Adventure Team" concept. G.I. Joe had originally been a soldier, marine, sailor, or pilot. By the early 1970s, with the introduction of new clothing and accessories, he was a safari hunter, a deep sea diver, a forest fire fighter, an astronaut, and many other specialties as well. Part of this new concept saw G.I. Joe released in 1976 wearing an RCMP uniform as part of the Adventure Team.
The New GI Joe
In the 1980s, Hasbro released a new line of 3-3/4" GI Joe action figures, with GI Joe no longer designating an individual character, but as the name of a modern counter-terrorist organization of the US Army, fighting a world-wide terror organization known as "Cobra". The toy line was supported by a well-written series of comic books by Marvel Comics (which eventually became a weekly cartoon series). In Canada, a Canadian version of the toy line was marketed, with notable changes such as Canadian birthplaces on bio cards, and Canadian flag insignia on vehicles. Simpsons Sears also ran special versions of some of the toys under the terms of their contract, which were not sold in the United States.
"Formative International" released a Korean War era figure with full insignia for a Sergeant in the Royal 22e Regiment in 1998. This was released as either a carded set (ie no figure) or as a boxed set. Artifact and photos courtesy Kevin Merkley.
Cotswold's Collectibles started selling GI Joe and Action Man figures in 1987, and by 1993 began manufacturing hard to find pieces, and before long were making custom weapons, equipment, and replicas of original items no longer manufactured by Hasbro. By 1995 complete figures were being offered via the Elite Brigade line. Part of this line was a "Canadian" soldier similar to its British soldier from the Normandy period, with the addition of a CANADA title on the battle dress sleeve rather than the British shoulder flashes of the original. Artifact and photos courtesy Kevin Merkley.
Towards the end of the 1990s, Dragon Models introduced a brand new line of 1/6 scale action figures, and remarkable attention to historical detail was paid, in order to appeal to adult collectors rather than children. The line debuted with Second World War German figures, and as the popularity of this line grew, so did the number of figures and range of subject material. Since the new figures were not intended as children's toys, intricate detailing (and inherent small parts) have highlighted the appeal of the figures to adult collectors. Unfortunately for the collectors, this attention to detail has also been inherent in the price. Nonetheless, for a time Dragon was head and shoulder over any other company in terms of quality of detail, and continues as of 2003 to lead the way in this regard.
Other companies entered the market, and a wide range of figures has evolved - from historical figures such as world leaders and famous generals, to Hollywood characters such as James Coburn as Sergeant Steiner in Cross of Iron, or Tom Hanks as Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan, to the anonymous soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in conflicts throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th Centuries.
British and Commonwealth subjects have featured prominently in these series of figures, and this page will attempt to shed light on some of the offerings that do depict - or could be reasonably made to depict - Canadian subjects. The 1/6 scale hobby is very similar to the 1/35 plastic hobby that inspired it, in that a wide array of "after market" kits are available for anyone with imagination, time, and a modicum of talent - the possibilities for converting figures is seemingly limitless. Many companies now even offer 1/6 scale vehicles, both out of the box for mass consumption, as well as customized vehicles.
Dragon Models has released several Commonwealth figures, including one specifically Canadian figure. Ron Volstad, well known throughout the Canadian military-historical community for his artwork in dozens of books including titles in Squadron-Signal's "In Action" series and Osprey's "Men at Arms" series, as well as over 150 boxtops for Dragon's 1/35 scale plastic model line, has been a driving force behind Dragon's historical accuracy and attention to detail. The first ever specifically Canadian 1/6 scale figure released for mass consumption was "Liam", who wears the insignia of The Calgary Highlanders - in homage to members of Volstad's family who have served with the regiment. The webmaster, also a Calgary Highlander, was pleased to be able to offer reference photos of insignia from his collection for Dragon to utilize in the creation of the figure.
Other figures include (as of this writing) "Ian", of the British Parachute Regiment, "Mark", an Army commando of unspecified regiment, "Martin", an 8th Army Bren Gunner, and "Reggie", also in tropical uniform. With minor detailing, these figures could be easily converted to represent Canadian troops.
21st Century Toys
21st Century toys, while generally considered to produce a quality of product lower than Dragon (though slightly more affordable), nonetheless provided three Commonwealth subjects. The 8th Army soldier has the first 1/6 scale Bren Gun, and wears a combination of Khaki Drill and Battle dress. The Commando wears a leather jerkin and carried a silenced Sten Gun. The paratrooper carries the Mk V Sten. All wear battledress trousers and adequately modelled web gear, anklets and other accoutrements. 21st Century has also released "carded" sets with just the uniforms and equipment for sale, for converting other figures into Commonwealth soldiers.
"Carded" figures have also been released by 21st Century, sold packaged in a blister pack attached to a cardboard backing, and featuring fewer accoutrements than the boxed figures. At least two Commonwealth-themed packs appeared - the paratrooper, and an 8th Army soldier, dressed in shorts and armed with an SMLE.
BBI Blue BoxToys
BBI released at least two Commonwealth offerings under their Elite Force WW II line, including a British paratrooper and a Commando. As with "Mark" of Dragon's line, the commando wears early pattern British battledress identical in detail to Canadian BD, and the majority of his kit can be used to represent a Canadian line infantryman. Similarly, the British Paratrooper can easily be converted into a Canadian.
Kitbashing and Conversions
Kitbashing - the act of using parts from more than one figure - allows the 1/6 collector to widen his collection and represent more than is just available commercially. The boxed figures shown above are often split up by merchants - both in hobby stores, and online at store sites or auction sites like ebay - and provide the hobbyist with plenty of options. The MP at right is a simple conversion by the webmaster of the "Reggie" kit, with CVI insignia augmented by a photocopy of original Provost Corps shoulder titles and the MP brassard. The web gear has been adjusted and whitened, and the khaki brassard was made from scrap material.
Francis Tavares is a master figure converter, who also does custom heads. Visit his website for a look at some truly inspired diorama and figure work: Battlefields