The Fenian Raids: St. Catharines Connections

Fenian Raids Image
Fenian Raid militia volunteers camp in Thorold, 1866. STCM, 1551-R (original from the collection of the Ontario Archives)

 

In honour of the 150th anniversary of the Fenian Raids and the Battle of Ridgeway, we’re taking a closer look at these relatively small skirmishes along the Canadian border that helped to pave the road to the Confederation of Canada the following year, in 1867.

 

While the 1866 Raids themselves took place in Ridgeway and Fort Erie, nearby St. Catharines played a role in the fight between British and Canadian militia and the mostly Irish-American members of the Fenian Brotherhood, an organization dedicated to Irish independence from Great Britain.

The 19th Battalion Volunteer Militia (Infantry), Canada

When it became apparent that a Fenian invasion was imminent, a General Order called out a force of 10,000 volunteers to defend the frontier, answered by the militia in St. Catharines. This included area companies of the 19th Battalion, the forerunner to the present day Lincoln and Welland Regiment.

On June 1, 1866, the date Fenian forces crossed into Canada, a volunteer militia assembled in St. Catharines and the unit was assigned to Lt. Col. George Peacocke. The Battalion departed St. Catharines for Chippawa late in the evening on June 1. On June 2, an “oppressively hot” day, members of the 19th Battalion marched to New Germany (present day Snyder), where they learned they were too late to support the fighting at Ridgeway. However, the Battalion eventually marched through Stevensville to Fort Erie. The column had to stop along their journey to bury one of their own – Corp. William Carrington died along the march from heatstroke and was buried in the cemetery at St. John’s Church in Stevensville.

The men stopped to assist the wounded at the Ridgeway Battlefield, then pushed on to Fort Erie, where they set up camp to patrol the river and village, guarding the border against roving Fenians. The 19th guarded Fenian prisoners prior to their being sent to stand trial in Toronto. The encampment was not long-lived and by July, the troops headed back to St. Catharines where they were dismissed from duty.

Support from the Citizens of St. Catharines

Many of those wounded in action at Ridgeway were brought to St. Catharines for medical care. In addition to the hospital, wounded also occupied the City’s Town Hall, which was used as a temporary hospital following the Battle. The care of the wounded was overseen by St. Catharines’ own Dr. Theophilus Mack, founder of the Mack School of Nursing.

Meredith Leonard is the Visitor Services Coordinator at the St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre.

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