Confederation’s Armed Defenders Recalled : First Part
Carleton Place Canadian, 28 April, 1966
By Howard M. Brown
When agreement was being reached for the attainment of Canada’s Confederation, the borders of the present provinces of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick were manned with Canadian and British forces prepared to repel invasion. The strange enemy was the private army of the Fenian Brotherhood and its so-called Irish Republic of North America. It was based in a northern United States flushed but worn by its Civil War success and lacking to this extreme degree in an attitude of friendship for Great Britain and Canada.
The Fenians and their followers quickly formed a misguided but large and reckless organization. Their preparations had been carried out with the tolerance of the United States government during the term of office of one of that nation’s worst presidents. Canada, by the Fenian plan, was to become Irish Fenian territory from which, with the aid of other nations, Ireland would be freed from England’s rule. Then Canada might possibly be handed over to the United States.
The Fenian Raids against Canada in 1866, renewed in 1870, came from a fertile soil for this mad scheme. Calling their organization an Irish Republic, the American Fenian leaders and their delegates from most of the then existing states of the union met in Cincinnati in September, 1865, and adopted a paper constitution modeled on that of the United States. Its active parts were its War Department and its Treasury. Foot-loose soldiers trained in the Civil War were available by the thousand and not averse to conquest and plunder. The tools and the spirit of war were in abundant supply. With more able Fenian direction Canada might have paid dearly.
The main encounters of the 1866 Raids were in Welland County and in the Eastern Townships in the first week of June. They were recalled in the first installment of this story of invasion dangers accompanying our Confederation, for which local and national Centennial celebrations now are being prepared. The Eastern Ontario points considered most threatened were Cornwall, Prescott, Brockville and Kingston. Some two thousand troops hastily placed at Cornwall included parts of two British regiments and militia of Cornwall, Argenteuil County, Kingston and Ottawa.
At Prescott a force of similar size included several companies of British troops and militia units of Hawkesbury, Belleville, Gananoque and the Ottawa area. Two of the latter companies were those of Fitzroy and Pakenham. Prescott’s Fort Wellington was strengthened and supplied with artillery reinforcements. Kingston’s fortifications remained garrisoned by British troops. Its district district militia units of rifles, infantry, artillery and cavalry went on active service standing. With lighter forces of the Ottawa area the capital city of Ottawa also was garrisoned.
Brockville’s defences were provided by the rifle companies of Brockville, Carleton Place and Perth and the infantry companies of Almonte, Perth, Brockville and Gananoque, under Lieut. Colonel James Crawford. A principal historical account of the Fenian Raids published in 1910 states: “These companies were exceedingly efficient, and did great service in guarding the riverfront and railway communications at Brockville. Col. Crawford and his troops received great praise from the Major-General for the very satisfactory manner in which they did their duty on these trying occasions.” (John A. Macdonald, writer of the 1910 history of the Fenian Raids, served on the Niagara frontier in 1866 and 1870, founded and edited the Arnprior Chronicle, and was a captain of the 43rd Battalion, Ottawa and Carleton Rifles.)
Captain James Poole’s newspaper’s report of the departure of June 3 of the Carleton Place company for the front said in part:
“After having been on the alert for about twenty-four hours awaiting an order to proceed to the frontier, a hurried dispatch was received about midnight on Sunday that the volunteer companies of Carleton Place and Almonte should be ready in about an hour to repair to Brockville by a special train. At 2:30 a.m. on Sunday the train arrived bringing the Almonte Company of Infantry under the command of Captain Gemmill. The Carleton Place Rifle Company commanded by Captain Poole and Lieutenant Brown were in waiting, having been accompanied to the station by over a hundred of our citizens. At the request of Captain Poole the Rev. J. A. Preston addressed the men.
It was a solemn and moving sight, the moonlight giving a dim view of the outline of the ranks and the friends and relatives moving to and fro as they took leave of those near and dear to them, discharging their duty to defend out hearths and homes against the invasion of a lawless band of marauders. As the train left the station three hearty cheers from the citizens rang the air, lustily re-echoed by the true men whom we hope to welcome soon again.”
To be continued……