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!

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.”

DANIEL CARON LEAVES LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA

15 May, 2013

Tonight we have news from LAC: Daniel Caron Leaves Library and Archives Canada:
Read more at:
http://clagov.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/daniel-caron/

LIBRARY & ARCHIVES CANADA – THE REALITY FOR PUBLIC LIBRARY USERS

May 2013

 

Amid all the controversy surrounding the budget reductions and staff cuts at Library and Archives Canada, is the reality for public library users.

If you are trying to research your Canadian heritage by using your public library to access the holdings of LAC, sadly, you are out of luck. 

In December 2012, LAC completely stopped interlibrary loans. You are no longer able to interlibrary loan anything from the collection at LAC, as funds have been re-directed to digitization of the collection.   Whether you are looking for newspapers on microfilm  in an effort to find great uncle Fred’s obituary, or that one book on your family history that can only be located at LAC, the only way you are going to see it is to actually go to LAC.  It is beyond comprehension that they think traveling to Ottawa is an acceptable option for 90% of Canadians, while their digitized content is practically nonexistent!

If you are lucky, the item that you want to borrow may be found at a University that will let you interlibrary loan it……..for a price.  So, you wouldn’t want to be guessing too often that it might be the book you’re looking for.  That could get expensive in very short order, as the average price per item is around $10.00.

The following excerpt from the May 3rd edition of the Ottawa Citizen (Record Breaking) exemplifies the frustration being felt by library staff and patrons over the withdrawal of LAC interlibrary loan service:

“In February, Bibliographical Society of Canada president Jane Friskney sent a four-page letter to Caron in which she poured out her frustration over his decision to cut the inter-library loan program while LAC’s online presence remained such a “dog’s breakfast.”

“Most businesses would not dream of terminating an existing platform for service delivery without first ensuring that a new one — one which offers equal and preferably better service — was immediately available,” she wrote. “And yet that is precisely what has happened.”

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Record+breaking/8335572/story.html#ixzz2SiksmXFp

Jane Friskey’s comment says it all! 

Public libraries are all about access to information and service to the public.  LAC’s present course of action is unreasonable as it denies the majority of  Canadians access to their heritage.  There is only one thing to do.  Interlibrary loans need to be reinstated so that all Canadians have reasonable access to ‘our’ heritage.  Of course, digitization needs to proceed, but at a more moderate rate, ensuring future access to the collection.  It’s time to stop putting the cart before the horse!

Please contact the following people if you would like to voice your opinions on the lack of interlibrary loans at Library and Archives Canada :

Contact : The Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage

http://www.pch.gc.ca/pc-ch/minstr/moore/cntct/index-eng.cfm

Contact  :  Daniel J. Caron, Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada

Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Library and Archives Canada
Office of the Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada

550 de la Cité Blvd
Gatineau, Quebec  K1A 0N4
Canada

Telephone :  819-934-5800

Fax :  819-934-5888

E-mail : danielj.caron@bac-lac.gc.ca

Contact:  Scott Reid, MP, Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington

Email: // reids@parl.gc.ca//
Carleton Place Office
224 Bridge Street
Carleton Place, ON
K7C 3G9Tel: (613) 257-8130
Fax: (613) 257-4371
Toll-Free: 1-866-277-1577

LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA’S CODE OF CONDUCT, POST 2

Three more must reads if you are following the ‘code’ controversy:

Here is a link to the actual LAC Code of Conduct:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/130187655/LAC-Code-of-Conduct-Values-and-Ethics

This blog “Troubled Times at Library & Archives Canada”, by Kimberly Silk, Data Librarian at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think-tank at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, has lots more links referring to the ‘code’:

http://kimberlysilk.com/librarians/troubled-times-at-library-archives-canada/

A public statement jointly issued by Association des archivistes du Québec, Association of Canadian Archivists, and Canadian Council of

Archives concerning the Library and Archives Canada Code of Conduct: Values and Ethics.

http://www.cdncouncilarchives.ca/JointStatement_CodeConductLAC_EN.pdf