Celebrate our history at the 150th Anniversary of the Fenian Raids

Jude Scott, manager of collections Fort Erie Museum showed the medals belonging to Port Colborne's Fergus Schofield and a copy of the watercolour depicting when he was shot in the leg at the 'Battle of Fort Erie Docks' at Tuesday's meeting of Port Colborne Council.
Jude Scott, manager of collections Fort Erie Museum showed the medals belonging to Port Colborne’s Fergus Schofield and a copy of the watercolour depicting when he was shot in the leg at the ‘Battle of Fort Erie Docks’ at Tuesday’s meeting of Port Colborne Council.

A major part of Canadian history, the Battle of Ridgeway  and the Battle of Fort Erie Docks, June 2. 1866, engagements between invading members of the Fenian Brotherhood and the Canadian Militia that were a catalyst to Canadian Confederation less than a year later is celebrating it’s 150th anniversary.

On Saturday June 4 there will be a ceremony marking this major moment in Canadian History at Battlefield Park on Hwy #3 at 1 p.m. in Ridgeway.  Before that, current members of the military from the regiments that originally fought in the battle will be performing a Freedom of the City march beginning at noon at Crystal Ridge Arena to the Ridgeway Battlefield Park.

The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, originally called the 2nd Battalion Volunteer Militia Rifles of Toronto, and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry which was originally called the 13th Battalion Volunteer Militia of Hamilton were two of four infantry units participating in the original battle.

Reenactors of the Fenian Raiders take part in the reenactment of the Battle of Ridgeway at Fort Erie in this file photo.
Reenactors of the Fenian Raiders take part in the reenactment of the Battle of Ridgeway at Fort Erie in this file photo.

In June 1866, the Fenian insurgents crossed into Canada at Fort Erie. They were members of the United States Irish community known as the Fenian Brotherhood. Many had just finished serving as soldiers in the American Civil War and were dressed in American uniforms. The purpose was to help force the United Kingdom into negotiating towards an independent Irish Republic. They were advancing towards Port Colborne when engaged by units of the Canadian Militia. (Source The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/fenian-raids/ )

The battle was fought June 2, 1866. After holding Ridgeway for a time, the Fenian forces retreated to Fort Erie and on that same day the Battle of Fort Erie was fought with the Welland Canal Field Battery (artillery), the Dunnville Naval Brigade and members of the British Royal Artillery participating against the Fenians.

“I’m here to speak with you about the upcoming 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Ridgeway and an interesting Port Colborne-Ridgeway connection with that battle,” Jude Scott, manager of collections Fort Erie Museum said in her presentation at Tuesday night’s meeting of Port Colborne Council.

She spoke about how soldiers of the Canadian Militia Units came by train to Port Colborne on June 1, 1866 and spent the night before taking the train from Port Colborne to Ridgeway.

“The battle proved to be a catalyst for Confederation and Canada became a country less than one year later,” Scott said. “It has been often called the ‘Battle that made Canada.’”

“Members of the Dunnville Naval Brigade and the Welland Canal Field Battery boarded boats in Port Colborne and sailed to Fort Erie where they engaged the retreating Fenian force,” she said. “This is the ‘Battle of Fort Erie Docks,’ a lesser-known battle of the engagement.”

“One of the soldiers of the Welland Canal Field Battery from that battle was a gunner named Fergus Schofield,” she said. “He was a merchant in Port Colborne at the time and during the battle at the docks, he was shot in the leg which later had to be amputated below the knee on the next day.”

“The Fort Erie Museum has a collection of 23 original watercolours of that battle and this one (she showed a copy of one to council) shows the soldier being shot in the leg at the ‘Battle of Fort Erie Docks,’” she said.

After the war he was commissioned as the lighthouse keeper in Port Maitland where he lived to be 80 years-old.

Scott said that after the battle, Welland County commissioned a series of medals for the soldiers from the Welland Canal Field Battery and the Dunnville Naval Brigade, only 77 of them were struck and given to the soldiers with their name engraved on them, reproductions are available, but the originals with the soldier’s names on them are very rare.

“Schofield’s Welland County medal and his General Service medal recently surfaced in Buffalo, N.Y.,” Scott said. “These medals are now part of the Fort Erie Museum collection and they represent the sacrifice that the soldiers made in defending our country.”

The medals will be on display along with other artifacts at the 150th anniversary event and will continue to reside in the Fort Erie Museum.

After the ceremony at the Battlefield Park, there will be a festival starting at 3 p.m. at the Crystal Ridge Arena. There will be tactical demonstrations, weapon, uniform and historical artifact displays, food and music.

For information regarding the June 4th activities, visit the Fort Erie website: http://www.forterie.ca/pages/150thAnnBattleofRidgeway , download the brochure here: http://www.forterie.ca/resource/files/6CA77EB98329221585257FBD007FAEBE/$File/150th%20Anniversary%20of%20the%20Battle%20of%20Ridgeway%20Brochure.pdf

The following weekend, June 11-12, Old Fort Erie will be hosting a historical reenactment weekend celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Ridgeway, http://www.niagaraparks.com/niagara-falls-events/event.html?evid=2181

Reenactors representing the 13th Hamilton Battalion engage the invading Fenian raiders at a Battle of Ridgeway reenactment in Fort Erie in this file photo.
Reenactors representing the 13th Hamilton Battalion engage the invading Fenian raiders at a Battle of Ridgeway reenactment in Fort Erie in this file photo.