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.”