The word cantonment, derived from the French word canton, meaning corner or district, refers to a temporary military or winter encampment. For example, at the start of the Waterloo campaign in 1815, while the Duke of Wellington's headquarters were in Brussels, most of his Anglo–allied army of 93,000 soldiers were cantoned, or stationed, to the south of Brussels.
In India and other parts of South Asia a cantonment refers to a permanent military station. In United States military parlance, a cantonment is, essentially, "a permanent residential section (i.e. barracks) of a fort or other military installation," such as Fort Hood.
In Bangladesh, cantonments are residential quarters for many military personnel aside from soldiers. These individuals include officers, teachers, military doctors, military nurses, junior commanding officers, and non–commissioned Officers. A wide variety of military training is provided in Bangladesh cantonments:
Several cities among the Indian subcontinent, such as Ahmedabad, Ambala, Belgaum, Bangalore, Danapur, Jabalpur, Kanpur, Bathinda, Delhi, Meerut, Pune, Ramgarh, Secunderabad, and Trichy, contained large cantonments of the former British Indian Army, with Meerut and Ramgarh being two of the most important cantonments in northern India, second only to the headquarters at Rawalpindi(now in Pakistan). Meerut was established in 1803 and for 150 years was the largest cantonment in the region. Although cantonments in India were considered to be semi-permanent in the 18th and 19th centuries, by the turn of the 20th century they had transitioned to being permanent garrisons. They were further entrenched as such, via the military reforms of
Lord Kitchener in 1903, and the Cantonments Act of 1924.
There are sixty-two "notified cantonments" in India, occupying an area of 1,057,000 acres: twenty-five in Central Command, nineteen in Southern Command, thirteen in Western Command, four in Eastern Command, and one in Northern Command. In addition 15,096,000 acres are in use for military garrisons, offices, and training areas. Major cantonments and garrisons include the following:
In Singapore, the term is used to denote a police cantonment.
The United States military commonly uses the term "cantonment" to describe the permanent facilities at U.S. Army training bases as opposed to the field training areas. Cantonment areas often include housing (such as barracks and maid-service quarters), dining facilities, training classrooms, exchanges, and paved air fields.