The Queen’s Own Rifles, University Company Suffered The Most During The Fenian Raids.

Ottawa June 6th 1866

My dear Father,

You no doubt have heard before this of the troubles which have been not only threatening but also actually occurring in this country. I do not know whether you have had good reports of the raid conveyed to and therefore will send you this week’s “Globe” which will contain the whole affair. The excitement here was tremendous all Friday, Saturday, Sunday and although very moderate on Monday yet again began to run high on yesterday (Tuesday). Now as to the actual raid from all I can learn there seems to have been about 1500 Fenians engaged. This perhaps is a high figure but I have seen it confirmed from Buffalo papers as well as from all reports by Canadian correspondents. The first thing that strikes one’s attention in the affair was the alacrity with which the “Queen’s Own” battalion of volunteers started and arrived at the front. The Fenians crossed over from Buffalo and took Fort Erie about 1 A.M. on Friday and by 6 A.M. the “Queen’s Own” were on the Steamer at Toronto and steaming out of the Bay. And this is more wonderful as they were not under active orders and had never been on any service at the Front. The “Queen’s Own” let me inform you is the pet regiment of the grand people of Toronto. Its companies have always taken the prizes for drill and target shooting. Its men are the wealthiest of all the volunteers about Toronto or perhaps in the West of Canada and it corresponds with the “Victoria’s” of Montreal in the East. It used to be the boast of the Toronto people the “Queen’s Own” were almost as well drilled as Regulars.

In it were the Highland Company each individual over 5 ft. 10 in. and arrayed in all the glory of the Kilt: four companies of the Merchants not only clerks but some of the most substantial men in Toronto and whom it would be hard to replace. University Company whose members if killed could scarcely make a void in the Country— for they have not yet taken positions in the battle of life — but on whose safety mothers from Sarnia to Ottawa would look with anxiety: the Trinity College Company taking the same place in the anxiety of the country as the University: and finally the Upper Canada College Company composed of boys ranging in age from 12 to 18 who however were not sent to the front but merely placed as sentries about the City. The Lawyers, them Merchants, the students made up this crack Corp of Toronto and no battalion in the Country presented more of the intelligence, talent and learning of the Country.

Funeral of Canadian Volunteers Killed in a Skirmish with the Fenians. Funeral of those killed at Ridgeway; at St. James' Cemetery, 1866.

Funeral of Canadian Volunteers Killed in a Skirmish with the Fenians. Funeral of those killed at Ridgeway; at St. James’ Cemetery, 1866.

Well this Corp was the first ordered to the Front — the first to get there — the first to open fire on the Fenians — the last to fall back — and the saddest sufferers in the Campaign. It appears the 13th battalion from Hamilton and this “Queen’s Own” with a company from York and Caledonia when marching from Port Colborne to meet the regulars came upon the Fenians and immediately, people say rashly, without waiting to make a junction with the regulars commenced a fight. They first drove the Fenians back 1½ miles and then failing in ammunition (they had only 40 cartridges each) were compelled to retreat which ‘tis reported they did in some confusion. The University Company was out as skirmishers on the extreme left wing and were in consequence the last to receive orders to retire. Poor boys they suffered the most of all the companies — three men were killed and eleven were wounded. Of the slain [I.H.] Mewburn, [William] Tempest and [Malcolm] McKenzie I may tell you they were Honor and Scholar men and in the list of the wounded I noticed more than one medallist. Three killed and eleven wounded out of only 40 men (for the Company could not be filled as many of the students had returned home) was not a small percentage when one considers the pettiness of the whole affair. I tell you my Father when the newsboy came into our office with the telegram that the College boys had been so handled, that so many where killed and so many wounded and against and by such foes I put my head on the desk and could have cried (had not shame hindered) with indignation but far, far more with sorrow. They were just concluding their examinations— not altogether finished — and were looking forward to the Convocation and the return home when the bugles sounded on Friday morning and they jumped out of their beds and pushed forward to the Front.

Queen's Own Rifles; Presentation of silver mace by Mrs. Draper, Normal School grounds, looking n. 1866.

Queen’s Own Rifles; Presentation of silver mace by Mrs. Draper, Normal School grounds, looking n. 1866.

This brush at Ridgeway where the “Queen’s Own” and the 13th Hamilton Battalion were opposed to the Fenians and a fight between a company under Col. Dennis who were guarding some Fenian prisoners and the Fenians which Col. Dennis and his Company had to run thirteen being wounded & killed and several taken prisoners were all the battles that took place. The Fenians did not await the attack of the “Queen’s Own” and the 13th Battalion united with the regulars and the artillery which was to have come off on Sunday morning but quietly departed on Saturday night leaving very nearly 90 prisoners in our hands. Twenty-one of these are at Toronto and nearly 70 at Brantford. Of course in this City the most outrageous rumours were flying about.  People were ready to believe the worst and as the Government were receiving telegrams every now and then they were inclined to credit the most alarming cowards? and rest satisfied that they were true and had come through Government sources. Then the hurrying of the volunteers to the Front with all the speed possible and the rumors and reports that Fenians are assembling at different points along the border naturally rendered the people unaccustomed to “alarum of arms” and young in war highly excited, and now you see on every side drill associations and new companies springing up.

Military school cadet, Louis Renaud, Montreal, QC, 1866.

Military school cadet, Louis Renaud, Montreal, QC, 1866.

At Montreal the other day a drill association was formed and 1200 of the best men were enrolled and the Mayor immediately informed the Commander-in-Chief that all the volunteer companies of Montreal could be spared for Frontier service as the Citizens were ready to garrison the City. In this City nearly 500 men were enrolled last night for a similar duty and three new companies are today being formed. And these are the scenes all over the country which I believe is completely aroused and perhaps dangerously excited. But the strongest feature of all is the apathy with which the sympathy and aid the Fenians have and are now getting from the Citizens of the U. States are received among Canadians. When you would expect them to break out into a denunciation of the Americans and heap them with abuse you are surprised to hear very little — some in the newspapers scarcely any in the street conversations or even in volunteer speeches. I have been examining this break and am satisfied that a deep seated conviction was in the public mind of the Canadians that the American Authorities were not overly anxious to preserve peace on our borders.

Queens Own Rifles, officers, in front of Volunteers Monument, Queens Park, Toronto, Ont. 1870.

Queens Own Rifles, officers, in front of Volunteers Monument, Queens Park, Toronto, Ont. 1870.

When one remarks surely the American Authorities were lax in preventing the raid Canadians merely remark “we never expected better of them” and rush on patiently to prepare for war against the Fenians as if against a Constituted and recognized Power. They were surprised that the Fenians should have made the raid but scarcely at all astonished that they should have escaped the vigilance of the American Authorities. So assured are they that the American Authorities are lukewarm in the matter that they place no reliance on their efforts and good naturely laugh at everyone who expresses confidence in the honest abilities of our neighbours. These remember are my observations not my sentiments. In fact they who admire the Americans most and who have upheld their character amid reproaches now feel stronger resentment towards them for their late, lax measures than those who always had a hard word for them. This peculiarity is even observed among the newspapers for example the Toronto “Globe” the great champion and defender of the Americans here now denounces and reproaches them the most bitterly for their remissness at Fort Erie.

I have not heard any thing yet about my examination but will inform you as soon as I am able.

  • P.S. Will write you shortly again.
  • Your affectionate Son, A.J. Christie.


Main Source: [Transcription: Alexander James Christie and Family fonds, MG24-I102, 10 pages]







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