Being designated as a "Freeman of the City" is a practice that began in 12th-century Europe. This designation was originally rather common and was used to identify the class of occupant that the Greeks would have called "citizen." These were free men of some means and rights as opposed to serfs or other indentured people. Over time, as more and more people were recognized with basic rights by the government, the "Freeman of the City" designation came to be an honour bestowed on citizens who were seen to have given service of great value to their community in a voluntary capacity. The Community Charter allows "Freedom of the City" (formerly District) to be bestowed by a unanimous vote of the members of Council to honour a distinguished person in the City who has made a significant contribution to the City.
The military application is somewhat different. It confers upon a military unit the right for all time to march through the city with "drums beating, colours flying and bayonets fixed." The decision to grant this freedom has always rested with municipal authorities and amounted to a peace and goodwill agreement between the two parties. This honour is a unique one for local government in British Columbia and has only been conferred upon seven individuals and two armed forces regiments by Maple Ridge: