«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
Remembering Ridgeway Ridgeway of course was not entirely erased from Canadians‘ memory, for here in these pages I have been retelling its narratives which had to come from somewhere, some place where they were saved and often tenderly preserved. The memory of Ridgeway lived on, because firstly, although the Globe gradually became Canada‘s national ‗paper of record,‘ regardless of its silence on Ridgeway, it was by no means the only paper in the country, and secondly, Toronto Wood, p. 4; Morton, Minister and Generals, p. 11 although Ontario‘s capital, was far from the only political and cultural community capable of sustaining memory of the battle. While the Queen‘s Own Rifles were encouraged by Ottawa to forget adding Ridgeway to their battle honours, University College dedicated a memorial window in its East Hall to the fallen students who died in the battle. The Welland Canal Field Battery and Dunnville Naval Brigade were memorialized and honoured annually near the anniversary of the battle in their communities and still are to this day.19 On October 25, 1866 in Port Robinson, two thousand people gathered to watch the presentation of engraved swords to Captains McCallum and King.20 The Dunnville Naval Brigade was presented by ―the women of Dunnville‖ with battle colours on a purple background with a crown and anchor in a garland of maple leaves.
Permission was granted for the men to wear the medal.22 As early as 1874, The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal correctly predicted that the medal will probably be among Canada‘s rarest.23 In Hamilton, the 13th Battalion faced an uphill battle to defend its reputation and pride since the day they were left behind in Port Colborne while their battle comrades were marched back to Ridgeway. Unlike the silence in Toronto‘s Globe, on the tenth anniversary the Cathy Pelletier, ―Decoration Day in Dunnville‖, The Chronicle, June 8, 2010 [http://www.dunnvillechronicle.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2614364 [accessed 06/07/2010 2:56:32 PM] Globe, October 26, 1866 Docker, p. 52 Thompson, p. 96 ―The Fort Erie Medal‖ The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2., October 1874, pp. 89Hamilton Spectator ran a story, ―The Anniversary of Ridgeway: A Sketch of the Fray: What the Hamilton Boys Did.‖24 But after that, it too joined the subsequent silence.
After nearly twenty-five years of silence, in 1890, suddenly murmurs and whispers of Ridgeway began to bubble to the surface in public discourse. A short paragraph in the Globe, ―Ridgeway Remembered‖ reported that the veterans of the battle had ―taken the matter in hand‖ and would meet for the first time publicly on the twenty-fourth anniversary to lay flowers on the monument to the fallen on the U of T campus near Queens Park.25 The Globe described the ceremony under the headline, ―Our Decoration Day‖ and reported that from now on it would be commemorated annually.26 It was the beginning of Canada‘s national Remembrance Day.27 Captain B. Mercer Adams who had commanded QOR Upper Canada College Company No. 6 ―the babies‖ spoke to the crowd gathered at the monument, saying ―the bloodshed at Ridgeway was the martyr-seed of a nation. Out of it came that impulse which drew the various Provinces together, and however discordant may be the question we have yet to face, we hope that the bond that unite us a people may be still more firmly riveted and that each passing year shall see our beloved Canada rise to greater things.‖28 The next year in Hamilton, it was reported that the veterans of the 13th Battalion had come together for their first reunion in twenty-five years.29 The memorialisation of Ridgeway had begun and would now unfold from about 1890 to 1925 resulting in a thirty-five year Spectator, June 3, 1876 Globe, May 31, 1890 Globe, June 3, 1890 Maroney, Paul. ―‗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] Globe, June 3, 1890 Hamilton Spectator, June 3, 1891 renaissance of acknowledgements, awards, speeches, ceremonies, reminiscences and published accounts, many of which would be sponsored on a local level by regional historical societies. In that process over the decade, Decoration Day would eventually encompass the memorialisation of those who died in the Northwest Rebellion30 and later the South African War, with the first joint remembrance ceremony being held in June 1903.31 By the 1920s it included, or more aptly, was subsumed by the casualties remembered in the Great War.
What had changed by 1890 to break the silence? It was not a renewed threat from the United States for the Venezuela Crisis was still five years away. As Mercer Adams observed on that first Decoration Day, ―A happy change, I need hardly tell you, has of recent years come over the great people to the south of us...the hearts of the American people are now turning back to the common home of the race...a gracious diplomacy is being exercised to reunite, in moral bonds at least, the two kindred peoples.‖32 “If I remember correctly, there was trouble in 1866...” I hypothesize that Ridgeway in the twenty-five years following Confederation, along with all the other factors which discouraged its memorialisation, was finally lost in an ideological postConfederation clash, a species of civil ‗cold war‘ between Macdonald‘s Tory centralists in Ottawa and Oliver Mowat‘s Reform former ‗rep-by-pop‘ home-rule sovereignists in Ontario who had originally completed the coalition driving the province into Confederation.33 In this unfolding clash to define the limits of provincial rights in the new Canadian federation, the memorialisation of Ridgeway was politicized by a much earlier trauma sustained by the Globe, May 30, 1896 Maroney, ―‗Lest we forget‘‖ Globe, June 3, 1890
Robert Vipond, Liberty and Community: Canadian Federalism and the Failure of the Constitution, Albany, NY:
State University of New York Press, 1991 Canadian body politic. This was an issue particular to Ontario‘s history as Upper Canada and it had remained unresolved at a depth which few Canadian historians appear to adequately acknowledge other than credit it with the gift of ‗responsible government‘: the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion and everything it represented.34 Premier Oliver Mowat‘s claim in his 1872 victory speech that Ontario was still fighting for liberty and ‗responsible government‘ but now against the tyranny of Ottawa,35 was not mere rhetoric behind Ontario‘s conflict with the Federal government over ‗provincial rights.‘ Mowat‘s stand represented a more deeply rooted polarity of ideological dimensions rarely acknowledged in Canadian political discourse. Their origins lay in England in the very experience, for example, that shaped Alexander Somerville‘s reform crusading and which defined as well, the anti-domestic espionage ideology of the era: the question of balance between loyalty and opposition, between liberty and security. It is odd to hear a premier of Ontario claim that the province is fighting for ‗liberty‘ against the ‗tyranny‘ of Ottawa. Liberty until disconcertingly recently, has never been a key term in Canadian political discourse in the way it had been historically in Britain, the United States, or France. With a few exceptions, colonial Canada received its allowance of liberty from that which was fought for and won by reformers in Britain first, and then passed down to Canada (‗received‘) through constitutional and legal reform without the blood and passions of a Peterloo or that of Gettysburg or the guillotine. That J.C. Morrison, ―Oliver Mowat and the Development of Provincial Rights in Ontario: A Study in DominionProvincial Relations, 1867-1896 in Three History Thesis, Toronto: Ontario Department of Public Records and Archives, 1961; Christopher Armstrong, The Politics of Federalism: Ontario‘s Relations with the Federal Government, 1867-1942, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981; Paul Romney, ―The Nature and Scope of Provincial Autonomy: Oliver Mowat, the Quebec Resolutions and the Construction of the British North America Act‖ Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique, Vol. 25,No. 1, (Mar., 1992), pp. 3-28; Getting it Wrong: How Canadians Forgot Their Past and Imperilled Confederation, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999; Mr. Attorney: The Attorney-General for Ontario in Court, Cabinet and Legislature, 1791Toronto: The Osgoode Society, 1986; S.F. Wise, ―The Ontario Political Culture: A Study of Complexities‖ in Graham White, (ed), The Government and Politics of Ontario, (4th edition) Toronto: Nelson, 1990; Vipond, Robert ―1787 and 1867: The Federal Principle and Canadian Confederation Reconsidered‖, Canadian Journal of Political Science, 22 (1), 1989. pp. 3-25 Globe, November 30, 1872 certainly differentiates Canadians not only from so many nations of the world today, but even from the home histories of their own founding Anglo-French peoples.
The clash between Ottawa and Toronto came to the literal brink of civil war in 1883 in Kenora with the so-called ‗Rat Portage War.‘ In a dispute over the Ontario-Manitoba boundary behind which Ottawa sponsored Manitoba in its attempt to extend federal jurisdiction over natural resources in the new incoming province, Ontario police began arresting Manitoba provincial officials, inspectors and police in Kenora.36 Although fortunately cooler heads prevailed, and nobody pulled the trigger, force had been used in a conflict that Premier Mowat explicitly referred to in the Ontario legislature as ―civil war.‖37 At the very least it was indeed a ‗cold‘ civil war. The issue was finally referred to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, the ultimate arbitrator of Canada‘s constitutional issues at the time, where in this case it was resolved in Ontario‘s favour.
That is the ‗discord‘ I hypothesize Mercer was referring to when in his speech on the first Decoration Day in 1890 he spoke of ―the impulse which drew the various Provinces together, and however discordant may be the question we have yet to face...‖38 For twenty-five years following Confederation, these issues polarized Canadians not only between Ottawa and Ontario, but within Ontario itself, where the 1837 rebellion had been plotted and punished. One lingua franca of this polarity was the issue of where to place in that ideological spectrum between opposition and loyalty, the volunteer militiamen who played a key role in both the crisis of 1837and of 1866. This question manifests itself in the Ontario legislative debates in the 1870s, evidently politicizing the issue of recognizing and compensating the volunteer militia at a http://www.winnipeg.ca/police/history/story13.stm; http://www.winnipegrealtors.ca/Editorials.aspx?id=152 [retrieved September 23, 2009]; Morrison, ―Oliver Mowat and the Development of Provincial Rights in Ontario‖ Globe, January 27, 1882 Globe, June 3, 1890 time that Mowat was pursuing his fight with Ottawa. Tory opposition would bait Mowat‘s Reformers by sponsoring bills to give additional recognition to the militia volunteers of 1837 who had fought to defend the Tory Family Compact establishment from the radical Reform rebels now lauded by Mowat as champions of liberty and ‗responsible‘ home rule for Ontario (notwithstanding the fact that Mowat himself in 1837 served in the militia that suppressed the rebellion.) In 1885, almost fifty years after the rebellion, the debate would take this tenor: who is to be commended, the militia volunteers in 1837 who turned out to defend the tyranny of the Family Compact or the rebels who fought for liberty in Canada? Who were the real patriots fighting for British institutions—the tyrannical Family Compact who ignored the reforms adopted in England or the rebel Reformers who strove to bring responsible government to Canada? Who were the real lawless rebel snakes at our bosom—William Lyon Mackenzie‘s radicals in 1837 who hardly did any damage or the opponents of the Rebellion Losses Bill who burned down the Parliament buildings in Montreal in 1849?39 During these debates George Ross, Mowat‘s minister of education commented on an amendment to a bill recognizing the heroism of the 1837 volunteers, but adding commendations for the Reform struggle for liberty as well. Ross framing his comments in the context of Mowat‘s claims for Ontario, stated, ―It says what should be said concerning those who stood up for the Government of the day, and also for those who believe that they were fighting for Provincial rights and privileges... But there are those who were not volunteers in 1837-38 who have risked their lives in defence of British institutions, and for the interests of the Dominion of Canada. If I remember correctly, there was trouble in 1866 and those who were called out then loyally obeyed the call, and their services are worthy of recognition.‖40 Globe, March 10, 1885 Globe, March 10, 1885 The question of whom to recognize—who were the ‗real‘ patriots, was still being debated in 1892—now fifty-five years after the rebellion when again a motion was raised to further financially recognize the volunteers of 1837, of whom there were hardly any left! Again the question was asked by opponents, ―If the hon. Member wanted to reward the volunteer militia of this country why did he pass over the volunteers of 1866? He did not mean to say that the result of that engagement was entirely satisfactory, or that a great amount of glory could be attached to Ridgeway, but he did say that if the volunteers had not been put upon the field...the Welland Canal might have been destroyed and incalculable mischief wrought.‖41 The veterans of 1866 became a pawn in this highly politicized dialogue on recognition and national celebration.