SHARING MEMORIES, WEEK THIRTY-THREE : Canada’s Centennial (3)

 

 War Clouds Menaced Confederation—Canada

By Howard M. Brown

Carleton Place Canadian, 14 April, 1966

 

In the last year of the founding of the Dominion of Canada, storm clouds surrounded the disturbed Canadian springtime of 1866.  To our forefathers of the towns and farms of the present provinces of Ontario and Quebec, rallying to the defence of their southern border, these storm signals gave new practical weight to the merits of forming a federal union with the provinces of their Atlantic neighbours.

Preserved among the remaining vivid Eastern Ontario pictures of Canada’s spirit of 1866 are the news and editorial columns of the Carleton Place weekly newspaper of that day.  They reflect the indignation and confidence of a province bracing itself to meet the threat of guerrilla attacks which might be made with the tolerance or tacit consent of United States authorities.  The generally similar view shown in newspapers and public attitudes in the future first Dominion of Canada in that troubled time is illustrated by such statements as these, made in this district’s widely circulated Carleton Place Herald:

“It appears almost incredible that the Fenian operations should have been allowed to be carried on in the States to so great a length as they have been.  But at latest reports the Washington authorities seem very little inclined to check their operations, and seem rather amused at the trouble, danger and expense to which the British provinces are subjected.  Mr. Seward (United States Secretary of State), may have to laugh on the other side of his mouth before the American government is done with Fenianism, its consequences and its responsibilities.”

“Prejudiced, although unfairly so, as the Americans are against us, we have but little to hope for or expect from their goodwill to us.  Indeed, without their countenance and support the present state of things could not have existed.  But in their own circumstances we have a reasonable guarantee that they will, if they have not already gone too far, stop the movement.  They know well too that the very first effect of a war with John Bull would be the total and irreparable loss of the fruits of their four years’ struggle with the South, with national bankruptcy and a long train of other evils.  We must not shut our eyes to the fact that if unhappily a war should take place with the United States, Britain and her colonies would suffer severely in the struggle.”

“At Ottawa during the past week guards have been placed at night on the armoury, the banks and the Railway Depot.  The city has a martial appearance.  Bugles are sounding, and the tramp of armed men is becoming familiar to our ears.  The number of volunteers in the city must now be over five hundred men.  There may be no actual necessity for this but it is better to be sure than sorry.

Large reinforcements from England are expected here shortly.  At present we have about ten thousand regulars in Canada, besides eleven thousand volunteers on duty.  Then there are at least fifteen thousand fully armed and ready at a moment’s notice, another eight thousand militia could soon be made available.  The Government has had an immense number of offers of veterans and others who are well drilled.”

A visitor’s impressions of the Carleton Place Rifle Company during its March, 1866 first call to arms were given in the Brockville Recorder, whose writer said:

“We learn from a gentleman who was travelling on the Brockville & Ottawa Railway that on Friday last a company of volunteers, fine looking men under Captain Poole, made their appearance at the Carleton Place railway station in full uniform, guns and bayonets in first best style.  Indeed a gentleman present said he never saw a better looking company of men, or arms better kept.  The company was led by the good old Scotch bag pipes and drum, well played.  The Captain and officers may be proud of their men.  If the interests of the country require it, this company will give a good account of themselves.  When the train started three cheers were given for the Queen, and three more for the Carleton Place volunteers.”

A brigade and divisional muster and review was held at this time (March 23 and 24) at Montreal.  Its proceedings, as reported by Captain Poole in the Carleton Place Herald, included imposition of a severe sentence of a court martial, later greatly reduced, for an unfortunate corporal of the Carleton Place Rifle Company:

“On Friday last, the Militia Brigade mustered at the City Hall in Montreal.  The sentence of the Court Martial on two of the volunteers belonging to the Shefford Light Infantry Company was read by the Assistant Adjutant General, George Smith.  The charge against the men was simply one of gross insubordination, and they were sentenced to sixty days imprisonment without hard labor.”

“On Saturday there was a ‘Grand Divisional Field Day’ of the whole garrison, regulars and volunteers.  The First Brigade, on the left, consisted of H. R. Prince Consort’s Own Rifle Brigade, the 25th.  King’s Own Borderers and the 30th Regiment.  The Second Brigade was composed of the Volunteer Militia, under command of Colonel Dyde, Brigadier.  The inspecting officer was Lieut. General Sir John Michel (then commanding Her Majesty’s forces in North America).”

“In Colonel Dyde’s staff we noticed Lieut. Colonel George Smith, A.A.G.  After the inspection the route of march was then taken up.  Each regiment was preceded by its band.  On completing a lengthy march by way of the following streets…., the regulars proceeded to the barracks and the volunteers turned into Craig Street at the French Square.”

“The volunteers then marched up to the Victoria Square, where the Brigade was drawn up in square of close column and the proceedings and sentence of a Court Martial on Corporal Patrick Tucker of the Carleton Place (C.W.) Rifles were read by Assistant Adjutant General George Smith.  The offence proved in this case was gross insubordination.  The sentence of the Court was ninety days imprisonment, the first and last seven days with hard labour.  At the conclusion of this unpleasant part of the day’s proceedings, the several corps marched off to their armories and dispersed.”

The thanks of Carleton Place to its volunteers at the end of their March service was offered at an oyster supper for the Rifle Company, held within the stone walls of William Kelly’s British Hotel at the corner of Bridge and High Streets, in an evening of songs and speeches.  One erring member of the Company, found after this event to have ‘persisted in wearing his uniform clothes for days together and even sleeping in them’, was fined five dollars with an alternative of ten days in jail.

Expectations of further dangers, which soon were to come, called for continued preparation and frontier watchfulness in the interval between March and June.  In their local prediction in the Carleton Place Herald three months before the June abortive invasion our chronicle Captain Poole wrote, in part:

“By recent orders from Headquarters the several companies relieved from active duty are required to assemble for drill twice a week, for which the non-commissioned officers and men are to receive each the sum of fifty cents for each drill:  the commissioned officers, nothing.  Until further orders the Carleton Place Rifle Company will assemble on Wednesdays and Saturdays at four o’clock.”

“The country is threatened with invasion by a reckless horde of robbers and scoundrels.  The danger may possibly be postponed but there is little doubt  that before many weeks it will come to the hard pinch, and we trust every volunteer will show himself to be A Man And A Soldier, and ‘rally round the flag’ in defence of his country and his home.”

The strains created by an aggressive United States and the threats from irregular forces within its borders were giving their unintended impetus to the union of the Province of Canada with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, then in its final stages of negotiation.  This was the Herald forecast:

“The idea of Confederation is making rapid strides in the Lower Provinces.  The prospect of ultimate success now amounts to almost a certainty.  The ‘blue noses’ are beginning to regard Canadians as friends and neighbours and are almost inclined to cultivate a closer relationship.  Canadian capital and enterprise would, it is believed, give a powerful stimulus to the progress of New Brunswick and the other colonies.  Again, the abrogation of the Reciprocity Treaty showed, too clearly to be misunderstood, the necessity of commercial union between the Provinces.  The feeling was made stronger by the avowed annexationist doctrines of some American politicians, and their supposed sympathy with the Fenian movement.  The demonstrations of the latter Order on the frontier, with their statements that they were determined to frustrate the Confederation scheme, sever the Colonies from Britain and erect them into a Republic, also have had their effect.”

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SHARING MEMORIES, WEEK THIRTY-TWO : Canada’s Centennial (2)

 

Invasion Threatened When Local Units Trained

By Howard M. Brown

Carleton Place Canadian, 31 March, 1966

 

Fifty years before Canadian volunteer soldiers began to leave their home towns in 1914 for overseas service, men equally prepared to risk their lives for Canada were forming the first active service military units of many Canadian towns.  Their fortunately brief defence service was in the years of the Fenian Raids of the 1860’s, when the last armed invasions of Canada came to challenge our national Confederation.

Among these defenders were more than fifty men of the Carleton Place Rifle Company.  The Carleton Place Rifle Company was formed at the start of the first expansion of a trained and permanent volunteer militia of the old Province of Canada, made to meet the risk of possible war between the United States and Great Britain at the outset of the American Civil War.  Like those of neighbouring localities and others throughout the province, it replaced a venerable succession of local but normally untrained and unarmed companies of the original sedentary militia.  A view of the participation of this community, then an unincorporated village, in Canada’s first major development of its own military forces is given in the pages of the locally published weekly newspapers of that day.

When war threats and consequent militia expansion came in 1862, local demand led to the formation of the first trained and equipped militia company to be based at Carleton Place.  In January of that year, in the words of the local Herald editor:

“At a meeting of some of the inhabitants of Carleton Place and vicinity, held at Lavallee’s Hotel on Saturday evening last, it was unanimously resolved that: – ‘In view of the unsettled state of affairs between the British and American governments and the possibility of war, it is expedient that a rifle company should be formed in this village and neighbourhood, to aid in the defence of their country.’

A muster roll was then opened and signed by those present at the meeting.  Several others have since added their names, making in all upwards of sixty.”

This number, including some young men of nearby farms, appears to equal nearly half of the total number of men of ages 18 to 40 living then in Carleton Place.

The gazetting of the Carleton Place Volunteer Militia Rifle Company came in December, 1862, with James Poole as captain and John Brown as lieutenant.  Within a month it was equipped and undertaking military training.  The Perth Courier in December stated:

“Volunteer Rifle Companies are organizing in all parts of the country.  In Carleton Place a Company has been Gazetted under Capt. Poole.  The volunteer movement if properly encouraged will soon result in twenty or thirty thousand well disciplined men.  Let it be made imperative on every Militia officer to be well drilled, and Canada would soon have her militia on a footing that would be ready for all emergencies.  At present the supply of Drill Instructors is sadly inadequate.”

The newly authorized company was first paraded in greatcoat uniforms on New Year’s Day, when its captain, news editor James Poole, wrote:

“According to notice given, the members of this company assembled in front of the ‘Herald’ office on the morning of New Year’s Day.  After being dressed in the coats and accoutrements forwarded by the Government from Quebec, they were drilled by Robert Bell, Jr., nephew of Robert Bell, Esq., M.P.P. for the North Riding.  They paraded the streets several times, and from the manner of performing the drill, dictated by their youthful teacher for the time, have given great promise of future utility, should any unfortunate occasion arise.”

By mid-July it was announced:

“In a few days the new clothing will be ready for distribution, and Carleton Place will be able to turn out one of the best looking Rifle Companies in Canada.  The Company will continue to drill as usual every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.”

Another summer notice stressed the need for target practice, as judged by the captain of the Carleton Place Company, who published the names and scores of marksmanship of each of some sixty militiamen:

“A rifle shooting match was held near this village on Saturday last, the 15th instant, between the Carleton Place Rifle Company and the Infantry Company from Almonte.  The Riflemen were requested to be in uniform at the armoury at six o’clock in readiness to march to the station to meet the Almonters. 

The Riflemen were uniformed in the regular Rifle dress – dark green tunics and grey pants, with red facings, dark belts and shakos to match.  The Infantry wore the scarlet tunics, gray pants, white belts and shakos trimmed to suit.  The shooting was conducted under the able management of Sergt. Cantlin.  The shooting on both sides was bad, and much below the average, there being but a few men in either company sufficiently practiced with the rifle.  The following is the score of points…”

(Totalling Almonte 107, Carleton Place 106).

A mid-winter inspection of these two companies in February, 1864, as reported by Captain Poole, showed the required drilling which lay ahead:

“The Almonte Infantry and Carleton Place Rifle Companies were inspected on Saturday last by Lt. Col. Earle of the Grenadier Guards, accompanied by Brigade Major Montgomery.  The attendance of both companies was much below what it should have been – The Almonte Company mustering only 27 including officers, and the Carleton Place Company 43.  The Colonel was well pleased with the condition of the arms and accoutrements of the men; but did not compliment them very highly on their proficiency in drill, which was owing to their very irregular attendance during the fall and winter.”

The American Civil War ended in the spring of the following year.  Within six months the Fenian Brotherhood in the United States was building its resources for its expected conquest of Canada, and in November, Canadian troops were posted for several months duty at border points from Prescott to Sarnia.

In Lanark County, contracts for erecting drill halls were let early in 1866 at Carleton Place and Almonte.  Construction of the Carleton Place armoury was aided by the promise of a £50 grant by the municipality.  It was built by William Pattie on the Beckwith Street site of the recently demolished skating rink bordering the park which then was the village market square.  Supported by its hand hewn beams, it remained a useful memorial of the perils of the 1860’s until destroyed in the town’s great fire of 1910.  Its use was granted at times for other community purposes ranging from the Beckwith Agricultural Society’s exhibitions of the 1860’s and the ambitious annual choral and musical festivals of the 1880’s to a series of Bishop R. C. Horner’s Hornerite revival meetings.  Almonte’s armoury was built for the combined purposes of the militia and the exhibitions of the North Lanark Agricultural Society.

When Fenian preparations in March had indicated they then might be about to attack, and ten thousand Canadian volunteers had been called for duty, no invasion occurred, although two minor ones were attempted.  Captain Poole’s Carleton Place newspaper reports of this time said:

“The rumors of a Fenian invasion have created a great stir through the country.  The volunteers are called for service and have responded nobly.  In our own village the company is filled up and is drilling three times a day.  The men are billeted on the inhabitants and have orders to be ready at a moments notice.”

Postponement came in two weeks, when it was reported (March 28) that:

“The prospect of a Fenian invasion of Canada is so far distant that the government feels justified in disbanding a portion of the volunteer force.  An order for the disbanding of the Carleton Place Rifle Company was received on Monday evening.  The bugle was sounded, and in a few minutes the whole company were at their posts.  They naturally thought that marching orders had been received, and were rather disappointed.

The new drill shed is to be completed by the first of September.  We would again express our gratification at the manner in which the company have conducted themselves while under arms.”

Forces on each side of the international boundary continued to prepare for a coming encounter.  Other views of the Canadian preparations will follow in the next section of this story of the times of Confederation.

Carleton Place Connection To The Battle of Ridgeway

Some Further Investigation of Carleton Place’s Connection to the Battle of Ridgeway

 

Howard Brown’s article in the Carleton Place Canadian, 17 March, 1966, titled “Border Raids Promoted Confederation in Canada,” makes reference to a man with a connection to Carleton Place being among those of the ranks of the Queen’s Own Rifles killed in the Fenian Raid at Ridgeway, June 2, 1866.  His name was John H. Mewburn.  “He was a university student, age 21, only son of Harrison C. Mewburn who at this time was headmaster of the Carleton Place grammar school.”  I thought it would be interesting to discover a little bit more about John H. Mewburn, and his role in the ‘forgotten’ Battle of Ridgeway.

A search on Ancestry.com for J. H. Mewburn, born circa 1845 shows him in the 1851 census living in Stamford, Welland Co. with his parents, Harrison C. Mewburn (farmer )and Ann Mewburn, and with his grandparents John Mewburn (Surgeon) and grandmother Henrietta Mewburn.  He was born in England.

A search of the 1861 census only locates his mother, Ann, living with her in-laws, and she is listed as single.  There’s no sign of John or his father in this census.

At some point, his father, Harrison C. Mewburn moved to Carleton Place.  His son was at the University of Toronto in 1866, writing his final exams on the morning of June 2nd, when he was called to battle.

It was not difficult to find more information online, and in books, about J. H. Mewburn and this historically significant battle. Most scholars feel the Battle of Ridgeway led directly to Confederation in 1867.  Most Canadians know very little about the importance of this politically charged battle.

Feeling curious about all of this?  Google searches of ‘Fenian Raids’ elicits the following worthwhile sites to visit:

A picture of soldiers at the Battle of Ridgeway on Our Ontario site:

 http://images.ourontario.ca/whitby/44414/data

A list of casualties at Ridgeway as well as everything else about Ridgeway, can be found on Peter Vronsky’s site.  The list of casualties includes J. H. Mewburn’s name:  http://www.ridgewaybattle.ca/

At the library we have a copy of Peter Vronsky’s book, “Ridgeway: the American Fenian invasion and the 1866 battle that made Canada.”  This is a must-read for anyone looking for a comprehensive account of this battle, and why he believes it has received so little attention. According to Peter Vronsky:

“On June 1, 1866 Canada was invaded by Irish-American Fenian insurgents from their bases in the United States. The Fenian Brotherhood planned to take Canada hostage in an attempt to free Ireland from the British Crown and establish an independent republic. The invasion culminated on June 2, with the Battle of Ridgeway near Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada’s first modern battle and the first fought exclusively by Canadian soldiers and led entirely by Canadian officers.

Nine militia volunteers from Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles Regiment were killed in the battle, including three student soldiers from a University of Toronto rifle company called out while writing their final exams and who took the brunt of a Fenian charge at Limestone Ridge.  While Canadians had not fought a major war in Canada since the War of 1812, the Fenians were all battle-hardened veterans of the American Civil War, many having served in crack Irish brigades.

The “Ridgeway Nine” were Canada’s first soldiers killed in action and Ridgeway was the last battle fought in Ontario against a foreign invader, but after the disastrous conclusion the Macdonald government covered-up what happened so thoroughly that most Canadians today have never heard of this battle.”

 

Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada site:  – Has a picture and a biography of John H. Mewburn. Here we discover that his middle name is Harriman, and we learn the graphic details of how he died:

http://qormuseum.org/2012/04/19/rifleman-john-harriman-mewburn/

The band, Fenian Raid, has a site with battle songs (‘Tramp, tramp, tramp’), more history and pictures of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, & talks about ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’ :  http://fenianraid.ca/fr_fenianraids.cfm

Howard Brown’s article in the Carleton Place Canadian of 04 August, 1960, describes the uniforms, and gives us an abbreviated list of the men of the local Rifle Company who defended their country at Brockville, Ontario in 1866.  J. H. Mewburn’s name is not among them, so it seems that his only connection to Carleton Place was that his father lived here:

“In a target shooting competition at Carleton Place between the local Rifle Company and the Almonte Infantry Company, the rifle company appeared in its new uniforms with green tunics, grey pants with red facings, and dark belts.  The infantry uniforms had scarlet tunics, grey pants and white belts.  The impressive headpiece of both companies’ uniforms was an ornamented cap known as a shako.”

Brockville river front and railway communications were protected by the provisional battalion which already had been called up in March, formed of the Brockville, Perth, Carleton Place, Almonte and Gananoque companies. 

Raids from the United States upon border points were made in 1866 by groups known as Fenians, whose professed objective was political independence for Ireland.  The Carleton Place and Almonte volunteer companies were dispatched to Brockville in June.  Captain of the Almonte company was James D. Gemmill.  Total of all ranks serving from Carleton Place numbered fifty-seven.  Under local officers Captain James C. Poole, Lieut. John Brown and Ensign J. Jones Bell, they included such Carleton Place and township family names as Burke, Coleman, Cram, Dack, Docherty, Duff, Enright, Ferguson, Fleming, Hamilton, Kilpatrick, Leslie, Lavallee, Moffatt, Moore, Morphy, and McArthur, McCaffrey, McCallum, McEwen, McFadden, McNab, McNeely and McPherson, Neelin, Patterson, Pattie, Rattray, Sinclair, Stewart, Sumner, Williams, Willis and Wilson.

Volunteers from these and other Lanark County areas served also in the Fenian Raids of 1870.  Drill halls built in 1866 at county centres including Perth, Carleton Place and Almonte were used for many years.  The Carleton Place drill shed was at the market square between Beckwith and Judson Streets, at the present site of the skating rink.  Almonte’s military quarters were combined with the North Lanark Agricultural Society’s main exhibition building then being erected.”

It is doubtful that any of the Carleton Place men saw active duty during the Fenian Raid of 1866, as after June 2nd the Fenians’ supplies of men and munitions had been curtailed. 

If, as all of the above evidence suggests, the Battle of Ridgeway precipitated Confederation a year later, why has it been forgotten, or has it been deliberately covered up?

Maybe it’s time to breathe some new life into the Battle of Ridgeway, and give it the recognition it deserves in 2017, when Canada celebrates its 150th birthday.

Stay tuned for more Confederation Series articles by Howard M. Brown!

Will Future Genealogists Be Able To Read Hand-written Records?

 

Ever wonder if writing in longhand is obsolete?  Many of today’s children and young adults cannot read handwriting.  Many schools in the area have eliminated cursive outright, as students use laptops and tablets to record class notes. 

An interesting article on handwriting appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, 25 June, 2013.  It is written by Andrew Coyne and is titled, “Putting words down on paper: How we write affects what we write.” 

In this article he explores the difference between typing and writing in long hand: “You’re using different parts of the brain.  Typing is file retrieval, remembering where a letter is.  With handwriting, you create the letters anew each time, using much more complex motor skills…..it seems to engage the more intuitive, right-brain aspects of cognition.  Tapping into your intuition is a critical part of writing, or indeed of thinking.”

So, have a read,   

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/travel/Putting+words+down+paper+write+affects+what+write/8572600/story.html

and then get out your pen and paper and start writing.

SHARING MEMORIES, WEEK THIRTY-ONE : Canada History Week, July 1-7, 2013 : Canada’s Centennial (1)

Border Raids Promoted Confederation in Canada

By Howard Morton Brown

Carleton Place Canadian, 17 March, 1966

 

Community preparations for Confederation Centennial Celebrations are on the way throughout Canada.  They have begun already to reflect a new degree of the energy and self-respect gained by every nation which honours its great men and their deeds, and by every district and community which shows a sense of pride in its past accomplishments and a confidence in its future.

The uniting of Canada from the Atlantic to the West, and then to the Pacific and the Arctic Oceans, was not heralded only by the wise plans of our elected representatives, bewhiskered and top-hatted, meeting a century ago in sessions of hard bargaining and minor ceremony.  It came first from urgent needs of the town and country people of Ontario and Quebec, and those of the Atlantic provinces.  Their most pressing needs had become those of sheer self-preservation in a time of increasing difficulty.  The way out was seen at last to be a joining of British North American colonies into a confederation having the strength and will to survive and grow.  The amazing transformation which was to appear across much of the northern half of North America in the short space of one hundred years remained undreamed in the land which was to become second in geographical size to only the present union of Russia and second in material standards of living to only its United States southern neighbour.

The most dramatic of the pressures which rallied public unity and led to the forming of the infant federal union was one which came particularly close to home in this part of Canada.  It was a threat of long standing which reached its final stage in the last attacks to be made on our borders by armed forces of an enemy.  Canadian preparations and United States vaccilation reduced these last American-based assaults upon Canada to the proportions of guerrilla raids, made in the year before Confederation and renewed four years later.  They were met and repelled by our own volunteer soldiers, backed and aided by British troops.  These exploratory tests, launched with the ill-concealed encouragement of United States advocates of northern expansion, hastened and strengthened the Confederation which molded Canada into a nation united from its outset by fires of adversity.

The attempted Canadian invasions of 1866 and 1870 remain well remembered in local traditions in Ontario and Quebec as the now remote Fenian Raids.  Their backgrounds lay in the destructive horrors of the United States Civil War, which in 1861 introduced a decade of crisis in Canada.  Northern United States attitudes and conduct on the high seas, coupled with the needs of trade, brought immediate critical relations between Great Britain and the United States and the first large scale organization of a trained Canadian volunteer militia.

Apprehension remained at the end of the American Civil War in 1865 that restless Northern elements might turn to the harassment of their Canadian and other British colonial neighbours.  The move from the United States soon came.  It centered in an organization calling itself the Fenian Brotherhood, formed to promote by force the separation of Ireland from Great Britain.  Members of this Irish separatist group in the United States were joined at the end of the Civil War by thousands of demobilized Irish Americans and other unsettled adventurers ready for further military action.

Their leaders late in 1865 put in motion ambitious plans for raising a private army of sufficient strength to conquer and subvert at least a part of the adjoining British colonies.  They arrogantly claimed that, after conversion of these supposedly downtrodden colonies into a free Irish republic, their Irish Canada with the aid of other nations would drive the British eventually by force of arms from the motherland of Ireland.

The president of the United States was the deplorable and later impeached Andrew Johnson of Tennessee.  United States government authorities appeared to ignore and failed to stop the arming and drilling of thousands of American Fenian recruits at points extending from New Brunswick’s borders to the Niagara and western river frontiers of Canada.  Our Canadian government late in 1865 assigned volunteer militia units to several months of winter guard duty at Prescott, Niagara, Windsor and Sarnia.  The Brockville Rifle Company also served on night guard at Brockville from December until the first general call to the frontier in the following March.  A year earlier it had been one of the units of the forces guarding western points from Amherstburg to Sarnia, to prevent any repetition of a secretly planned Confederate raid from the Canadian side such as had been made on St. Albans, Vermont.

The Fenian forces gathered and were armed in the spring of 1866 at border mustering centres including Calais and Eastport in Maine, St. Albans and other places in northern Vermont, and in upper New York State at Malone, Potsdam and Ogdensburg and Cape Vincent, Oswego and Rochester.  Western and southern Fenian contingents arrived at Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo, Erie and Buffalo.  When a New Brunswick Fenian foray was blocked by both British and United States naval and military intervention, a three-pronged campaign against Canada was prepared.  One force was to enter at Fort Erie and cut canal and railway communications.  One was to cross at Prescott with Ottawa as its objective.  The third hoped to advance through the Eastern Townships on Montreal.

The Canadian government of the united present provinces of Ontario and Quebec had introduced an urgent militia bill when the early border stresses of the Civil War appeared.  It was designed to provide for a trained force of 50,000 men, raised by selective service if necessary, as compared to a number of not more than five thousand volunteers covered by the initial Canadian military training law of 1855.  The government was defeated on this conscription issue of 1862 but militia expansion began.  A similar act was passed at a later stage of the American war.  Voluntary enlistments and Fenian defeats made it unnecessary to invoke its provisions of compulsion for the balloted enrolments, which were initiated but not enforced.

Defence action in 1866 began against threatened March attacks which failed to materialize.  Ten thousand volunteers were called up at militia centres throughout the area of Ontario and Quebec, then in its last year as the Province of Canada.  The greater part of this number was dispatched to guard the united province’s long and vulnerable southern approaches.  Fourteen thousand men had responded to the call.  Among those alerted for action were seven Lanark and Leeds companies forming a provisional battalion under Major James Crawford of Brockville.  It was composed of the rifle and infantry companies of both Perth and Brockville, the Carleton Place Rifle Company under Captain James C. Poole, the Almonte Infantry Company under Captain James D. Gemmill, and the Gananoque Rifle Company.  Severe cold and several weeks of frosty Canadian guard and drilling duties postponed the Fenian invasion.

The Main Attack

The main attack came three months later when an advance contingent of more than one thousand Fenians, led by their general John O’Neill, crossed the Niagara River by boat from Buffalo and entered Canada at the first of June near Fort Erie.  They were met the next day by a slightly larger force of Canadian militiamen.  In the Battle of Ridgeway and in a Fort Erie engagement, Canadian casualties were about ten killed and forty wounded.  Among those of the ranks of the Queen’s Own Rifles killed in the action at Ridgeway was John H. Mewburn, university student, age 21, only son of Harrison C. Mewburn who at this time was headmaster of the Carleton Place grammar school.  With losses close to twice the Canadian number and with laggard American military prevention of their reinforcement, the Fenians withdrew across the river.

From Vermont about one thousand of the Fenians who had gathered at St. Albans entered the Eastern Townships on June 4.  Until effective Canadian forces reached the area, they plundered the neighbourhood of Frelighsburg, Pigeon Hill, and St. Armand for several days.  With slight losses they withdrew due to lack of reinforcements.  After the launching of these unsuccessful Canadian raids, American authorities tardily disarmed and dispersed the main border forces of these invaders, and charged and released on bail a number of their leaders. 

The thrust of the third prong of Fenian attack, intended along the St. Lawrence front between Kingston and Cornwall, failed to develop when all troops available in the area of Eastern Ontario were placed on active service to oppose it.  Militia companies and units of British regiments joined in the defence of Kingston, Prescott and Cornwall, in all about three thousand at Kingston, two thousand at Prescott and two thousand at Cornwall.  Brockville river front and railway communications were protected by the provisional battalion which already had been called up in March, formed of the Brockville, Perth, Carleton Place, Almonte and Gananoque companies.  Most of the Canadian militia at the end of the 1866 Fenian Raids was released after about three weeks’ active service.  The remainder continued on guard duty for periods up to six months.

United States authorities provided railway transportation for some thousands of the Fenian forces to their home towns from points including Buffalo, Malone and St. Albans.  A July resolution passed by the House of Representatives reflected United States attitudes by recommending suspension of proceedings in the United States courts on all charges against Fenians wherever possible and sought release of Canada’s Fenian prisoners who had been captured in their unprovoked armed assaults upon this province. 

The prisoners captured at Fort Erie were removed to Toronto where on preliminary inquiry about forty were discharged and deported.  Trials of forty remanded prisoners opened in Toronto in October before Mr. Justice John Wilson and a jury, and continued until January.  The judge, a native of Lanark County, had himself in his youth been tried as a principal in the fatal Wilson-Lyons duel at Perth.  Half of these accused were acquitted.  The remainder, convicted of high treason in the case of British subjects and the rest under a law passed for such cases during the Canadian Rebellion period, were sentenced to be hanged.  After several of the convictions were appealed unsuccessfully, the sentences all were commuted to varying terms of imprisonment in Portsmouth Penitentiary at Kingston, and within a few years the last had been released.  Three of six convicted Missiquoi County Fenian prisoners also had been sentenced to be hanged, when  fourteen had been tried at Sweetsburg.

One of the Canadian estimates of this time of stress was that of Captain James Poole in his Carleton Place Herald.  While advocating moderation in punishment of the captured “dastard Fenian foes”, he declared in retrospect:

“Brother Jonathan has had his eye on Canada for a long time past, and though we read much about ‘friendly relations’ they exist only on paper.  Both the American government and Press have done all they could, with safety to themselves, to encourage the Fenians in an attack on Canada.  Had they not been afraid of a growl from the British Lion they would have done more.”