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«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»

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history as a province, it is of the utmost importance to urge with all plainness the duties which the Christian owes to the Crown and to the nation.‖5 Entitled Righteousness Exalteth A Nation, a reference to Proverbs chapter 14, verse 34, ―Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people,‖ Inglis preached that Limestone Ridge was a Protestant Armageddon in the face of unholy Fenian Catholicism, reminding his parishioners that the Catholic and Greek Orthodox ―communions have so overshadowed the great and glorious truths of the gospel by their errors and superstitions, that as systems we can only designate them as anti-Christian rather than Christian...‖ Inglis preached, ―The expected confederation of the British North American Provinces gives bright promise of a nation growing up here which shall occupy a high place in the future annals of civilization... What is to be our national character? On what do we rest as our security for national permanence and prosperity? Not surely on our extensive national resources, or on our facilities for making them available, or the energy and enterprise of our people. Not even on our much cherished relation to the British Throne, though this is a tower of strength to us.‖ Only in its commitment to Protestantism can Canada be safe, Inglis concluded. ―It is becoming far too common a thing to say that Canada with its immense frontier cannot be defended—that in the event of war between Great Britain and the United States we are powerless to defend ourselves.‖ But have we forgotten the history of Protestant Switzerland, which stands independent next to more powerful and often hostile neighbours, asked Inglis. ―If we possess and maintain that righteousness which exalteth a nation, then no power shall be suffered to prevail against us,‖ he declared. ―Let Canada flourish by the preaching of the word.‖ 6 For Inglis, ‗the word‘ was exclusively Protestant.

David Inglis, Righteousness Exalteth a Nation: A Thanksgiving Sermon, Hamilton, C.W.; Spectator, 1866. p. 2 Inglis, pp. 3-14 Despite the battlefield setback, the Fenian invasion of Canada had not only tested its people‘s courage and commitment to justice, but the nation‘s institutional viability for future self-defence.

The ability to deploy within several days 22,000 troops gave Canadians a new sense of selfconfidence and an opportunity to correct mistakes with clarity that special commissions of inquiry could never offer. For the moment purchases of third generation repeaters like the Spencer rifle were cancelled but the muzzle loaders were replaced by second generation singleshot breech-loading rifles. New weapons, knapsacks, canteens, field surgeries, gunboats, training camps for privates, not just officers, were some of the measures introduced in the immediate wake of the experience of Ridgeway. 7 New regulations and manuals were published containing ‗Hints on Skirmishing‘ which now reminded soldiers, ―When skirmishing, men should remember that in the field an enemy will be opposed to them, whose business is to keep himself as much as possible under cover at the same time he fires upon them whenever they expose themselves. Two lines of skirmishers opposed to each other on smooth ground and keeping their lines properly dressed, are never seen in a real fight.‖8 Ridgeway sobered up everyone as to the new realities of warfare and began the professionalization of the modern Canadian military.

The QOR in the meantime, saddled with the nickname ‗Quickest Outta‘ Ridgeway‘ were horrified to be associated with Booker and the blame sometimes fell on the ‗The Scarlet Runners‘ under his command as well. Reverend David Inglis became an impartial arbitrator in the dispute between the two regiments, attesting to the courage and the errors of both together Harris, pp. 11-21.

Regulations Respecting the Volunteer Militia, Ottawa, 1866, p. 24 the ‗scarlet and the green‘ in a letter to the Globe and in his testimony at the Booker Inquiry.9 Just the same, in 1923 the Queen‘s Own Rifles applied for Ridgeway to be added to their official battle honours on their regimental colours, arguing that they displayed tactical acuity by withdrawing from the battle line when they did. According to military historian Brian Reid, ―the regiment was told in no uncertain terms never to raise the matter again.‖10 The disaster at Limestone Ridge obviously was not a shining exemplar of military prowess suitable for a national founding myth despite the individual heroism of the rank and file, but something larger was necessary to drag Ridgeway down to the depths of obscurity to which it was sunk.

Ridgeway Obscured On May 25, 1870 the Fenians invaded again. O‘Neill led 600 men and a cannon across the border from Vermont into Quebec and was quickly repulsed. Six Fenians were killed with no casualties on the Canadian side. Six weeks later, the Canadian Volunteers Monument, sponsored and paid for by Toronto citizens, was dedicated near Queen‘s Park on the University of Toronto campus on July 1, 1870, a month after the fourth anniversary of the battle and coinciding with Dominion Day. Its inscription read ―Campaign June 1866. Honour the brave who died for their country.‖ It is Toronto‘s oldest standing public monument.

Some ten thousand people attended the dedication during which Canada‘s Governor General Lisgar declared it a memorial to ―the brave men who ran the greatest risk and made the greatest sacrifice which mortal man can make in defence of the principles of generous independence and orderly freedom, which are embodied in the name and auspices of the Dominion of Canada.‖11 In his speech, the Governor General was claiming the fallen of Ridgeway as the embodiment of the Dominion of Canada which was soon to include Manitoba, Globe, June 18, 1866; Booker Inquiry, pp. 239-241 James Elliott, ―Irish Victory on Canadian soil‖, Hamilton Spectator, February 2, 2001.





Globe, July 2, 1870 British Columbia and Prince Edward Island in addition to the original partners of 1867: the two Canadas, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Indeed the Volunteer marching song out west in the summer of 1869 as border tensions with the U.S. rose in the Pacific, now went like this

–  –  –

After Confederation in 1867, the federal Dominion government in Ottawa, led by John A.

Macdonald for the next twenty-five years (except for the interruption in 1873-1878), became our ‗nation builder‘ shepherding territories to provincial status and persuading remaining colonies into the national dream called Canada. The original partners of 1867, the diverse political communities of Lower and Upper Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick individually had less to do now with that process.

When the Globe had reported on the dedication of the monument in 1870, it would prove to be a rare instance of Ridgeway being mentioned in its pages. In June 1867 a year after the battle, the Globe did not print any memorialisation or did it do so on the fifth anniversary in 1871; nor the tenth in 1876; nor the twentieth in 1886 and in none of the years in between.

Baskerville Cariboo Sentinel, June 16, 1869 quoted in Edith Fowke,‖Canadian Variation of a Civil War Song‖ Midwest Folklore, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer, 1963), Indiana University Press, p. 103 Considering the clamour of Ridgeway in its time, the duration and extent of the subsequent twenty-five year silence is puzzling.13 The reasons for the silence on the surface seem obvious and were described in the introduction: Canada lost the battle in a shameful retreat and chaos; they lost to an ‗inferior‘ Celtic republican enemy; a series of government inquiries distorted and suppressed divergent accounts of the battle; the Fenian problem had not been resolved by the battle and continued to plague Canada; in the context of military history the battle was not distinguished by its strategy or by an extraordinary amount of casualties and it was even debated whether this was a battle or merely a ―skirmish.‘ Ostensibly none of this encouraged the battle to be memorialized or adopted as a symbol of national fruition.

There were other arising factors in the years following Confederation. First, there was the issue of compensation and recognition for those who served in the militia prior to Confederation when technically speaking the militia was a British colonial provincial institution.

This included the few surviving veterans of 1812 but also those of 1837-38 and 1866. This fiscal and jurisdictional responsibility was thrown back and forth like a hot potato between Ottawa and Toronto and London. Whose responsibility are pre-Confederation militia veterans, asked legislators, that of the colonial province that had founded and maintained the militia at the time of their service, Britain of which Canada was then only a colony, or of the new Dominion government in Ottawa that now had uncontested exclusive jurisdiction over questions of national defence?14 Paul Maroney, ―‗Lest we forget‘: War and meaning in English Canada,1885-1914,‖ Journal of Canadian Studies.

Vol. 32, No. 4; Winter 1997/1998; Globe, May 30, 1896.

http://proquest.umi.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/...ROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VName=PQD&TS=1280163971&clie ntId=12520 [ Accessed: 26/07/2010 1:10:11 PM] See for example the legislative debates, reported in the Globe, April 5, 1892 Second, since 1885 late Victorian reform liberalism skewed discussions at the time on awarding recognition to Canada‘s latest combat veterans of the ‗Batoche and Battleford Columns‘ militia who had participated in the Northwest expedition against the Métis concluding in the controversial execution of Louis Riel. Some of Canada‘s press had celebrated that campaign as a rebirth of Canada‘s national spirit and pride, much in the same way that Ridgeway had been. The Halifax Herald claimed ―local jealousies will sink into insignificance, and the national feeling which is daily strengthening in the older provinces will unite us with the infant prairie provinces and each of them with the others.‖ The same paper reminded readers ―it requires blood to unite a country,‖ and that ―the disturbances and bloodshed in the Northwest have done more to unite Canada than could be accomplished by five years of peace.‖15 A senior military chaplain in Montreal told the mourners at the funeral of three militia men killed in the Northwest that ―we realize a feeling of national unity which was not demonstrated so thoroughly three months ago.‖ The nation, he claimed, was now ―bound together in bonds of blood.‖16 Some called for a medal to be issued for the Northwest campaign.

The Globe took a more sober reformist view of the campaign throwing cold water on all the national rhetoric by editorializing, ―There would have been some sense in bestowing a medal for the Ridgeway and Pigeon Hill affairs, in which Canadian troops repulsed a foreign marauder;

but a decoration for the Northwest, where the enemy consisted of a handful of fellow-subjects driven to despair by the misconduct of our own officials, was almost as much out of place as a decoration would be for British soldiers whose duty had obliged them to take part in an Irish eviction or in the massacre of Peterloo.‖17 Alexander Somerville could not have written it with See Maroney, [n.9] citing Halifax Herald, March 30, 1885; April 3, 1885 and also see: Toronto Mail, May 18, 1885, 4; Montreal Gazette, July 23, 1885, 4.

Rev Mr Barclay quoted in the Manitoba Free Press, 25 May 1885, p. 4 cited in Maroney Globe, August 5, 1890;

more liberal reform gusto had he still been alive. The problem was, to only recognize the veterans of ‘66 would have created a new class of dishonoured veterans of the Northwest Rebellion. Political dilemmas of that kind are most easily resolved through silence and inaction, respectively the sworn enemies of history and progress.

Finally, we have a robust body of Canadian military historiography described in the introduction which weighs in that Canada‘s ‗militia myth‘ was eclipsed in the three decades following Confederation during which defence doctrine was shaped in a rivalry between proponents of a permanent standing army and those of the volunteer citizen army unfolding in a period of economic downturns. As a result Canadians were indifferent to military policy as they did not regard their U.S. neighbour as a threat. This historiography claims all this comes to an end with the 1895-96 Venezuela Crisis when Anglo-American relations sour and Canadians are once again reminded of the threat from the U.S., now calling for Wood‘s required ―slightly longer memory‖ and for Morton‘s ―short attention span for military concerns.‖ to be overcome.18 The end of this eclipse of the militia myth in 1895 fits almost seamlessly with the chronology of a revival of the remembrance of Ridgeway; almost, but not quite, because the revival of Ridgeway in public commemoration commenced in 1890, five years before the Venezuela Crisis.



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