«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
“Some day the unbiased story will probably be told.” If my hypothesis is correct, then the longevity of this Tory-Reform ideological duality puts to question how Canadian history was practiced at the turn of the century and the memorialisation of Ridgeway may very well be a key to that question. For example, throughout most of the Victorian era, recent Canadian history was simply not taught at all by the University of Toronto.
Until 1896 when George M. Wrong began to teach it there, Canadian history was not taught past 1815 in the fear of ―injuring older reputations.‖42 By the early 20th century it could be professionally a dangerous thing to question the prevailing canonical history of Reform in Ontario, notwithstanding their claim to liberty. When William Dawson LeSueur in 1908 submitted what has been called ―the first truly critical biography written in Canada‖43 of the 1837 rebel William Lyon Mackenzie which challenged the traditional Reform version of the Globe, April 5, 1892 Robin W. Winks, Recent Trends and New Literature in Canadian History, Washington D.C.: American Historical Association, 1959. p. 3 Clifford G. Holland, William Dawson LeSueur, DCB rebellion‘s place in Canadian history, a cabal of Liberal-Reform hardliners44 seized the manuscript and were stopped from destroying it only by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1911.45 Despite the Supreme Court ruling, they launched a civil court case the next year which U of T‘s history department trooped down to the City Hall courtroom to witness. The court insured LeSueur and his manuscript were so thoroughly suppressed and silenced by a series of court orders,46 that the biography could only finally be published seventy years later—in 1979—sixtytwo years after its author‘s death.47 ―After 1833, our history is controversial,‖ commented Clarence M. Warner, the President of the Ontario Historical Society in 1916. ―Many of the events of these years, when clear, calm judgment was absent on the part of people in control of the affairs of State and of those in Opposition, are today given us in books, pamphlets, newspapers and other documents, and some day the unbiased story will probably be told.‖48 So what had changed in 1890? By the time Ridgeway began to creep back into public discourse, Mowat had by then taken his fight with Ottawa as far as it would go. By then, Macdonald‘s hated National Policy protective tariffs were resulting in the rapid industrialization and urbanization of Ontario. Reform‘s urban liberals until then had depended upon their ―electoral infantry‖ as Paul Romney called them, agrarian populists, but now their power began to wane when U.S. western grain production and Macdonald‘s Pacific railway triggered a deep Mackenzie-King Diaries, April 28, 1908; December 27, 1911, http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/king/indexe.html Morang & Co. v. LeSueur, (October 3, 1911), 45 S.C.R. 95 Globe, November 12, 13, 15, 18, 1912; Donald A. Wright, The Professionalization of History in English Canada, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. pp. 21-24; A.B. McKillop (ed), A Critical Spirit: The Thought of William Dawson LeSueur, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977. pp. 273-275; Daniel Francis, ―King vs.
Revisionist‖, Books in Canada, March 1979, pp. 4-7; Daniel Francis, National Dreams: Myth, Memory, and Canadian History, Toronto: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2002. pp. 114-119;
William Dawson LeSueur, William Lyon Mackenzie: A Reinterpretation, (edited by A.B. McKillop) Toronto:
Carleton Library-Macmillan, 1979.
Clarence M. Warner, Canadian History as a Subject of Research, The President‘s Address, June 7, 1916, Ontario Historical Society Papers and Records, Volume 15, 1917. p. 8 agricultural crisis in Ontario. The balance of power shifted to the urban industrialized constituencies for whom a centralized state offered more opportunity than an Ontario as sovereign as Mowat had envisioned it.49 In 1896 after having embraced over the last ten years both Ontario Irish and French Catholics in their call for provincial ‗home rule‘50 the Reformers surrendered and endorsed the National Policy and then went on to carry Wilfrid Laurier to the Prime Minister‘s office. A new era had clearly begun and the controversies that had plagued the recognition of the volunteers of 1866 waned. It became safe to talk about Ridgeway—Upper Canada‘s last battle—without it being a hornet‘s nest of politicized collateral issues going back to the controversy of 1837 and what it meant. That is the hypothesis I offer as to why Ridgeway was systematically not commemorated in the 1870s and 1880s but began to be in the early 1890s and it coincides with Morton‘s and Wood‘s same recognition of the significance of Laurier‘s election in 1896—the arrival of the new ‗Laurier Era‘—but from a point-of-view gazing through the smoke of the forgotten battle on Limestone Ridge and its localization in Upper Canada-Ontario as opposed to in Canada as a whole in a state of renewed fear of American invasion reawakened by the Venezuela Crisis and new nationalist fervour associated with the beginning of the Laurier era.
Ridgeway and the Making of Canada‟s Remembrance Day On June 2, 1891, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battle, thirty-thousand people gathered at the Volunteer Monument near Queen‘s Park. People climbed up on the scaffolding of the newly constructed parliament buildings, onto lumber piled up at the site and into the trees of the park.
The monument at U of T was almost entirely buried beneath wreaths of coloured flowers and Romney, Getting it Wrong, pp. 183-184 See for example, ―In Favor of Home Rule: The Ontario Parliament discusses the question‖, New York Times, April 24, 1887 leafy plants laid there by schoolchildren, a gesture adopted from the United States where after the Civil War, flowers were laid on military graves in May on national Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it was also known. The adoption of an American memorial tradition was not without its predictable controversies;51 in Britain there was no Decoration Day.52 Toronto‘s militia regiments and 450 boys from the public school drill corps carrying wooden muskets and protected by 30 Toronto constables escorted several hundred veterans of 1866 from the drill shed at Simcoe Street, along a route to Queen‘s Park packed with spectators.53 The ‗decoration‘ of the monument by Toronto‘s schoolchildren became an annual ritual for the next decade.
In its coverage of the 25th anniversary of Ridgeway the Globe now ran four full-page columns, including a recapitulation of the history of the Fenian invasion and the battle. The sacrifice of the ―Varsity Company‖—the University Rifles—was singled out for their youth and for all the promise lost in their deaths. Colonel William Otter, the former QOR adjutant and now Canada‘s Deputy Adjutant General spoke of ―homage to the gallant militiamen who fell in the defence of our common country.‖ One of premier Mowat‘s ministers, John Morison Gibson elected as a Liberal from Hamilton spoke next of the heroism and sacrifice. Gibson served as a lieutenant at Limestone Ridge in No. 1 Company, 13th Battalion which held the abandoned Fenian barricades along Bertie Road to the right of the Angur brick house. He delicately nudged Otter on the question of Ridgeway‘s casualties falling for ―our common country.‖ Gibson remained a passionate proponent of Ontario‘s constitutional autonomy, and just as Captain Mercer Adams had the year before with his ―discordant‖ comment, Gibson reminded everybody, ―It is unfortunate that there is divided authority, education being in the hands of the Province and Globe, October 14, 1892 Globe, July 4, 1899 Globe, June 3, 1891 the militia in the care of the Dominion. There may be difficulty in arranging concurrent action, but no doubt it will be overcome.‖54 Col. George Denison spoke last and hinted on the lingering question of loyalty, ―In the past Canada had not shown so much of that spirit of reverence for her dead as one might wish, but within the last three or four years it has steadily grown. Very seldom now was it said that we should not speak of loyalty, although there are still wandering professors who say that loyalty is out of fashion. Canadians felt that they had a country and were they to allow Canada to go under they would blush with shame when looking at the monument which told of men who died for Canada. It would have to come down... Let them not be untrue to the dead. The country which does not honor its noble dead deserves to sink into oblivion.‖ 55 Throughout the 1890s, during debates about awarding volunteer troops who fought in the Red River and Northwest Rebellions, the question was still frequently raised, why not the volunteers in the Fenian invasions of 1866 and 1870? By the end of the decade the fact that the former in 1866 had fought for a constitutionally different Canada than the latter in 1870, began to matter less and then not at all as Canadians were called to volunteer in 1899 to fight in the South African War where 284 would die.
By now the Veterans of ‗66 Association had organized a national petition to the Queen for the recognition of all the volunteers who served during the Fenian raids.56 On June 2, 1896 the Globe commemorated on the thirtieth anniversary of the battle, ―It is to the everlasting discredit of the Tory Government of Canada that outside of their empty thanks, which cost nothing but printers‘ ink, not a single man who participated in it, except those who were Globe, June 3, 1891 Globe, June 3, 1891 Globe, March 11, 1896; April 12, 1897; May 24, 1897; Captain Macdonald, p. 185; Committee of Citizens Chosen to Represent the City of Toronto, ―To The Queen‘s Most Excellent Majesty‖, circa 1897 [CIHM no. 46333] wounded, have got a tittle of recompense, or even a memento for their services up to the present day...The survivors have yet a hope but if that tardy recognition ever comes it will come from a Liberal and patriotic Government and not from a band of boodle-mongers whose life-long history connects them with selfishness and a policy of personal aggrandizement at the expense of the country.‖57 Eleven days later Wilfred Laurier led the Liberal Party to electoral victory over the Conservatives ushering in a new era for Canada and as well as for Ottawa‘s relationship with its defiant province of Ontario. The zenith came next year when 50,000 spectators would line the route of the veterans‘ march, on Decoration Day as June 2 was now known. Two thousand schoolboys marched with them to the monument where some 35,000 people gathered and which was again carpeted in flowers and wreaths. For the next thirty-five years, Decoration Day was Canada‘s national memorial day, held in late May or early June.58 It is still held today in some of the Ontario rural communities that sent militia units to Ridgeway and Fort Erie: on June 6, 2010, the town of Dunnville commemorated its 113th annual Decoration Day,59 while Caledonia held its on May 30.60 In January 1899 in response to the petition to the Queen, Britain authorized a Canadian General Service Medal (CGSM) for veterans of 1866 and 1870 Fenian raids and the 1870 Red River Rebellion.61 Anybody who was on active service in the field, served as a guard at any point when an attack from the enemy was expected or had been detailed for some specific service or Globe, June 2, 1896 http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/remembers/sub.cfm?source=teach_resources/remdayfact [retrieved January 2, 2010] 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] Katie Dawson, ―Honouring Veterans During Decoration Day Ceremony‖, Cambridge Reporter, May 19, 2010 [http://www.cambridgereporter.com/news/article/210556 [ accessed 06/07/2010 3:21:01 PM] The Northwest Rebellion 1885 militia was excluded presumably because unlike the 1866 and 1870 militia, they had not been acting under overall British command in the wake of the British army‘s departure from Canada in 1871.
duty, was eligible for the medal upon applying for it—it was not issued automatically. The medal‘s obverse featured a veiled effigy of Queen Victoria with the legend VICTORIA REGINA ET IMPERATRIX while the obverse displayed the flag of Canada surrounded in a wreath of maple leaves. It hung from a 1.25 inch wide ribbon of three equal bands of scarlet, white and scarlet with a clasp inscribed, ―Fenian Raid 1866‖, ―Fenian Raid 1870‖ or ―Red River 1870.‖ There were 15,300 of these medals issued to Canadians with their individual name and unit engraved on the rim. (Another 1,368 were claimed by British veterans.)62 It was issued just in time for the call on Canadians to help Britain in the upcoming Boer War in South Africa.
The Canadian federal government acquiesced to the British medal but added nothing of its own to the measure as it did in the case of the Red River Expedition and Northwest Rebellion whose veterans were granted 160 acres of crown land while those who went on to fight in South Africa would get 320 acres.63 In the end, in 1901 the Ontario government undertook to grant its veterans upon their application 160 acres of crown land. It remained an Ontario issue right to the end.64 While some pride might have been healed by the medals and recognition, the process of historical restoration was incomplete. The public events were accompanied by newspaper articles on the histories of the battle and on some of the militia units that participated in the 1866 crisis.
Over the next two decades witnesses and veterans of the battle began publishing their recollections in both popular magazines and historical journals, presenting papers at historical society talks.65 But these fragmentary sources were never assembled or reviewed by any new comprehensive history to be written on the battle other than the one by Captain Macdonald in http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/remembers/sub.cfm?source=collections/cmdp/mainmenu/group03/cgsm [retrieved Oct.
10, 2009] Captain Macdonald, pp. 186-188 RG 1-99 Fenian land grant records, Archives of Ontario Globe, July 4, 1896, January 7, 1899; Canadian Magazine, November, December 1897, January 1898, July 1899