Born in Durham, Ontario in 1853, Sam Hughes was throughout his life a controversial figure. After a short teaching career he purchased a newspaper , the Lindsay Warder, which he used to voice his outspoken views. He became the Conservative Member of Parliament for Victoria North and commanded the 45th Victoria Regiment of the Canadian militia. When the South African War broke out Hughes went over the head of the senior staff officer of the Canadian militia (a British officer, Major General Hutton) and the Canadian Militia Minister, writing directly to the secretary of State for the Colonies offering himself in command of a Canadian battalion which he would raise. General Hutton refused to allow Hughes to go to South Africa, but after writing letters of apology, Hughes was permitted to accompany the Canadian contingent as a civilian. Once there, however, he was soon in uniform, in defiance of orders to the contrary.
Following Sir Robert Borden's election victory in 1911, Hughes was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister of Militia. Although Hughes brought a great deal of energy to his Ministry, his order to cancel the detailed plans made for mobilization in the event of war created chaos as he personally supervised the raising of a volunteer force. Only the artillery mobilized according to plan. The volunteers assembled at Valcartier, near Quebec City, in a huge tented camp with four miles of bell tents and a large artillery range. When war began there was nothing at Valcartier, but by early September the camp was ready.
Sam Hughes, who had preceded the First Contingent to England on a fast liner, had already met with Lord Kitchener at the British War Office and had refused to have the Canadian troops divided up among the British regiments. According to Hughes himself, Kitchener said: "You have your orders, carry them out." To which Hughes replied: "I'll be damned if I will" and walked out. Kitchener's plan was abandoned (more likely because Borden had obtained a legal opinion form his Minister of Justice that as militiamen on active service abroad they should rightly remain under Canadian control). This is perhaps something that the Canadians had to thank Hughes for. They had another reason to be less thankful to Sam Hughes for, and that was the Ross rifle.
In November 1916, Hughes resigned, after Sir Robert Borden's decision to appoint a Minister of Overseas Forces. He died in 1921 at the age of 69.