«Combat, Memory and Remembrance in Confederation Era Canada: The Hidden History of the Battle of Ridgeway, June 2, 1866 Peter Wronski (Peter Vronsky) ...»
would be trained by a veteran Royal Artillery bombardier detached to them, Sergeant James McCracken.33 It was from Toronto‘s upper-crust milieu, however, that one of the most eccentric of Canada‘s Victorian militia commanders rose to prominence—George Taylor Denison III. The ―Fighting Denisons‖ until very recently were Toronto‘s premier military family. Their tombstones are lined up by rank like soldiers on parade in St.John‘s-on-the-Humber, the private family cemetery secreted in a hidden hilltop corner of Toronto overlooking the banks of the Humber River in the Weston Road and Jane Street triangle. The Ontario Archives preserves locks of their hair like bejewelled saintly reliquaries34 while a Canadian Armed Forces armoury in north Toronto bears the Denison family name and houses a regiment the family had first founded as a small troop nearly two hundred years ago—the Governor General‘s Horse Guard, the 3rd Light Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment.35 The family patriarch, great-grandfather John Denison, a brewer and farmer from Yorkshire, immigrated to Upper Canada in 1792 and acquired a 1,000-acre grant in what is today the College-Dovercourt area of Toronto. The Denison progeny grew into a robust line of successful land speculators, politicians and lawyers, which along with their marriages into United Empire Loyalist families, by 1853 made the Denisons reputedly the wealthiest private land owners in Canada West.
Beatty [ms], LAC, p. 6 George T. Denison fonds, Reference Code: F 1009, Archives of Ontario Having served in the regiment in1971-1973 as a teenage militia trooper, I can attest to the power of the Denison name permeating the regimental lore and traditions into which every recruit was sheep-dipped. The Governor General‘s Horse Guard (GGHG) were based until recently in the Denison Armouries on Dufferin Street in Downsview, now torn down and replaced by a Costco. The GGHG moved to a new Denison Armoury near Sheppard and Allan Road. The GGHG fought in South Africa, First and Second World Wars and in Korea. Since 1965 it has been designated as a light armoured reconnaissance regiment and when I served in it, it was still commanded by a member of the Denison family. Today again an armoured regiment it operates with Cougar Armoured cars and armoured personnel carriers (APCs), it maintains a squadron of ceremonial horse guards who ride on their own privately owned steeds, escorting the Governor General and the British Royal family and other dignitaries on their visits to Toronto or to the Queen‘s Plate race.
Back in 1822, the grandfather George Denison I formed one of Upper Canada‘s earliest cavalry regiments, the York Dragoons. Renamed ―Denison‘s Horse‖ in 1839 after the government stopped subsidizing the troop, the Denisons personally continued financing the unit like some kind of feudal cavalry for the next twenty-three years until the Militia Act of 1862 brought it back onto active lists as a troop in the 1st York Cavalry. Over the years, command of the cavalry unit transferred from its founder George T. Denison I to his son George T. Denison II, an attorney and alderman for St. Patrick‘s Ward 1843-1853 and one of the founders of Ontario‘s Queen Plate thoroughbred racing classic. Then the command passed to his eldest son, George T. Denison III—the great grandson in this ever-expanding family of cavalrymen.36 George T. Denison III was born in Toronto in 1839. Educated at the elite Upper Canada College, Denison was enrolled in the equally elite Trinity College from where he was then promptly expelled for insubordination by Bishop Strachan himself. Denison was forced to transfer to University College where he completed a law degree and was called to the bar in 1861 at the age of twenty-two. Denison‘s real passion, however, was service in his father‘s troop of cavalry. George Denison was fifteen years old when he was made a cornet (cavalry 2nd lieutenant) and only eighteen when he was promoted to the rank of Captain and appointed the troop‘s commanding officer in 1857.37 After the passage of the Militia Act of 1862, George Denison relentlessly lobbied the government for arms, equipment, uniforms and saddles for his force of fifty-five horsemen.
Always status-conscious, he petitioned Governor General Lord Monck to grant his troop the title ―Governor General‘s Body Guard for Upper Canada‖—an acknowledgement that his was the David Gagan, George Taylor Denison, [II], in Ramsey Cook (ed) Dictionary of Canadian Biography, [Online], University of Toronto, http://www.utoronto.ca/dcb-dbc/ [hereafter ―DCB‖] Norman Knowles, George Taylor Denison. [III], DCB; Frederick C. Denison, Historical Record of the GovernorGenerals Body Guard, Toronto: 1876. p. 20 oldest cavalry unit in Upper Canada and was to be given forever precedence in parades and ceremonies over other units. In April 1866, the troop was granted the title which eventually was amended to the Governor General‘s Horse Guard, the name under which the primary reserve light armoured regiment operates today.38 By then Denison held the rank of Major.
In 1861 when the Civil War broke out and before the Trent crisis, he published a pamphlet under the pseudonym of ―a native Canadian‖ Canada, is she prepared for war? Or, a few remarks on the state of her defences. In it Denison condemned the poor state of militia and the lack of martial spirit among Canadians. The pamphlet drew vigorous condemnation from the Toronto Globe for its ―military fever‖ and ―martial ardour‖ that threatened to be costly to the Province.39 As the Trent crisis began in November, Denison now published a second pamphlet, this time in his own name, The National Defences. In it Denison insisted that any country bordering with a country at war, needed a strong army to defend its neutrality. Prophetically he also warned, ―When peace is proclaimed between the Southern and Northern States, a large body of armed men will be thrown out of employment, and may in some instances be induced to make filibustering expeditions into our territory for the sake of plunder.‖40 Denison inherited his family‘s historical hatred of the American republic. During the Civil War, he was an agent for Confederate Secret Service operations based in Canada against the northern United States. Denison‘s connection to the Confederacy came through his uncle George Dewson who had immigrated to Florida in the 1850s and was a colonel in the Secret Service. 41 Denison admitted to assisting at least one Confederate operative in infiltrating the Frederick C. Denison, p. 23.
Globe, March 30, 1861 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 52 Mayers, p. 181 U.S. across the Canadian border. As U.S. authorities became aware of photo microdot dispatches being smuggled from Canada to the U.S. inside of metal buttons on couriers‘ clothing,42 Denison‘s wife sewed Confederate secret service dispatches written on silk in pencil into the lining of the agent‘s coat sleeves, intended to be undetectable to the touch if the agent was searched.43 Denison fronted his name and money for the purchase of a ship in Canada, the Georgian, which the Confederate Navy planned to secretly outfit with guns and torpedoes in Collingwood and unleash on the Great Lakes against U.S. shipping and POW camps. 44 Before the mission could be carried out, at the urging of Washington, Macdonald ordered the vessel to be seized and Denison spent enormous energy unsuccessfully suing the government for the return of the vessel he had paid for. Eventually it was surrendered by Canada to the United States as compensation.45 Like his father, Denison was an alderman on Toronto City Council. In April 1865 upon Abraham Lincoln‘s assassination when City Council voted on a resolution of condolences to the American people, Denison was the only member to vote against it.46 After the Civil War, Denison became friends with the former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who would stay at Denison‘s Haydon Villa in Toronto during his several visits to Canada. As Carl Berger explained, ―Denison‘s sympathy for the Southern cause in the Civil War was instinctual and rooted in the loyalist tradition of his family. He adhered to the same values that legend and This is very likely the earliest record of the use of microdot photography in espionage and as acetate-film media did not exist at the time it probably involved photosensitizing the metal of the buttons themselves or lining them with daguerreotype copper/silver, a photo medium with a capacity for very high resolution. According to the US Consul in Toronto, ―Messengers wear metal buttons, which upon the inside dispatches are most minutely photographed, not perceptible to the naked eye, but are easily read by the aid of a powerful lens...‖ See: Thurston to Seward, January 8, 1865, Despatches From U.S. Consuls in Toronto, Canada 1864-1906, United States Consular Records for Toronto; Records of the Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, 1788-1964, RG84; (National Archives Microfilm Publication T491, roll 1) National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD Denison, Soldiering In Canada, p. 61-62 See Despatches From U.S. Consuls in Toronto, Canada 1864-1906, T491, roll 1, op cit.
Mayers, p. 133 Mayers, p. 181 propaganda had attached to the plantation life and the Confederacy—the martial values and chivalric code of honour; the adulation of conservative, landed society; and the detestation of capitalistic business. Bathed in pastoral imagery of romance, the South seemed to represent the hierarchical order for which the Family Compact had also stood.‖47 Berger might be describing the sentiments not only of Denison, but of many Canadians during the Civil War. When Jefferson Davis was first released from prison in 1867 and travelled to Montreal and Toronto to recover his Presidential papers from a bank safety deposit box where they were deposited after the fall of Richmond, thousands of people gathered at the docks in Toronto to cheer his arrival. Standing on a pile of coal leading the cheers, was Denison.48 George T. Denison III will play a minor role in the fighting at Ridgeway, but his place in the subsequent writing and re-writing of battle‘s history, both with pen and gavel, will prove to be titanic.
Through 1861 to 1863, the volunteers and their officers paraded, drilled and feuded but as the Civil War began to consume the American nation it appeared that the threat from the U.S. to Canada was diminishing. Canada‘s militia once again began to creak and show signs of possible decay as enthusiasm for drilling waned and government resolve to pay for it flagged. Fewer volunteers began to show up for drill and company enrolments began to drop dramatically.
Funding was cut back. Then with 1864 suddenly a new threat emerged.
Carl Berger, A Sense of Power: Studies in the Ideas of Canadian Imperialism, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970. pp. 15-16 Denison, Soldiering in Canada, p. 69 Chapter 3: The Rise of the Fenian Threat Founded in 1858 by former Young Irelander rebels James Stephens in Dublin and John O‘Mahony in New York City, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in Ireland and the Fenian Brotherhood (FB) in the United States was a predecessor to the twentieth-century IRA. In fact the Fenian insurgents who invaded Canada called themselves the Irish Republican Army (IRA)—the first known usage of that appellation.1 Eventually the IRB became known as the ―Fenians‖ even back home in Ireland and in England.2 Their goal was the creation of an independent democratically liberal republican Ireland free of the British Crown, a nationalist ambition shaped by a seven century-long conflicted yet symbiotic relationship between the Irish and English peoples beyond the scope of this dissertation to even introduce.3 The American branch of the organization founded in New York City took its name from quasi-mythical pre-Christian Third Century A.D. Gaelic warrior clans, the Fiana, or Fianna Eirionn. The Fians, Fiana, or Fenians according to one source ―employed their time alternately in war, the chase, and the cultivation of poetry.‖ Their tradition also encompasses Scotland William D‘Arcy, The Fenian Movement in the United States: 1858-1886, Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1947. pp. 229-230; M.W. Burns, ―To the Officers and Soldiers of the Irish Republican Army in Buffalo‖, June 14, 1866 in Captain Macdonald, p. 93 In academic literature the IRB movement is sometimes referred to as ―fenian‖ without capitalization while the capitalized ―Fenians‖ refers exclusively to the U.S.-based movement.
See: R.F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972, London: Penguin Books, 1989; Robert Kee, Ireland: A History,
London: Abacus, 1991; Brian Jenkins, Era of Emancipation: British Government of Ireland 1812-1830, KingstonMontreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1988; David R. C. Hudson, The Ireland We Made, Akron, OH:
University of Akron Press, 2003; Mary Frances Cusack, History of Ireland From AD400 to 1800, (1888), London:
Senate Books Edition, 1995; Thomas Pakenham, The Year of Liberty: The Great Irish Rebellion of 1798, London:
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997; Sean Cronin, Irish Nationalism: A History of its Roots and Ideology, Dublin:
Academy Press, 1980; James S. Donnelly, The Great Irish Potato Famine, London: Sutton Publishing, 2001 and D.J. Hickey & J.E. Doherty, A new Dictionary of Irish History: From 1800, Dublin: Gill & MacMillan, 2003; Tom Garvin, ―Defenders, Ribbonmen and Others: Underground Political Networks in Pre-Famine Ireland, Past and Present, No. 96 (Aug., 1982), p. 136; Oliver Rafferty, The Church, the State and the Fenian Threat, 1861-75, New York: St Martin's Press, 1999; Mike Cronin and Daryl Adair, The Wearing of the Green: A History of St. Patrick‘s Day, London: Routledge, 2002; Kenneth Moss ―St. Patrick‘s Day Celebrations and the Formation of Irish-American Identity,1845-1875,‖ Journal of Social History, Vol. 29, No. 1. (Autumn, 1995), pp. 125-148; Michael Cottrell, ―St.