When Great Britain pulled their troops out of Canada, a Militia Act was passed, making every able man from 18 to 60 years of age part of the militia. In 1866 the 32nd Bruce Battalion was formed. This Battalion joined other similar militia forces for two weeks of training annually in places such as Goderich, Niagara or London, as well as participating in some local training. These forces were at the ready, in the early days, during times of conflict, including the Trent Affair, the Fenian Raids, the Red River Rebellion, the North-West Rebellion and the South African (Boer) War. A few fought in these conflicts and a handful died, supporting the Dominion.




1861 The Trent Affair article

1861 The Trent Affair By Chris Neudorf, BCM&CC Student, 2014 In the first year of the American Civil War, tension was rising between Great Britain and the United States over English merchant shipping to the "Confederacy" (Rebelling Southern States). As the English government continued to turn a blind eye to English traders who provided guns and naval vessels to the rebels, it became increasingly possible that the United States might declare war on England. As a result, over 4,000 regular British infantry had already been sent to the British North American colonies. The decision of the British government to entertain Confederate diplomats further enflamed this tension. Two of these diplomats were James Mason and John Slidell who, in November, were on their way to England via the British merchant vessel Trent. On November 8, 1861, Captain Charles Wilkes, on his own initiative, captured the ship and placed the two men under arrest. The event elevated the strained Anglo-American relations into a crisis. England demanded immediate remuneration, whilst the American public insisted that their government ought to hold firm against British interference at all hazards. This event came monumentally close to inaugurating a third Anglo-American war, which would have in turn embroiled Canada in the American Civil War. Bruce County's own soldiers were not removed from the event. As England moved an additional 11,000 regulars to the colonies, the militias created in the Militia Act were called upon to prepare for an invasion of 50,000 to 200,000 American soldiers. One of these militias was the 1st Bruce. For the first time, the newly created Bruce militia was formed, drilled, and trained in the art of war. The Trent Affair was recorded in history as an event that could have changed the face of Canada. In their own small way, Bruce County's soldiers played their part. Despite the calming of the Trent Affair in December 1861, the possibility of British recognition of the Confederacy, and even intervention in the war, remained real. For the duration of the war, the 1st Bruce Militia was at the ready, prepared to use their newly acquired military knowledge to defend their young colony.

1866 Fenian Raids article

1866 Fenian Raids By Chris Neudorf, BCM&CC Student, 2014 At the close of the American Civil War, the impetus of a war between America and England faded away. Although the diplomatic relationship between the two nations would remain strained for two decades, no real threat of war existed, and the regular infantry sent to defend the colonies had been withdrawn. This action would prove premature, however, as a small army of Irish Federalists, known as the Fenians, emerged as a military threat to Canada. Though small, the Fenians were a force to be reckoned with. Their numbers were composed almost exclusively of Irish-American Civil War veterans. Unlike the Canadian militia, the Fenians were experienced warriors. In 1866, the Fenians, led by ex-Civil War Captain John O'Neil, invaded the Niagara Region at the town of Old Fort Erie. At Ridgeway, the Fenians won a complete victory, and moved on to take the ruined Fort as well. The raid caused an uproar throughout Upper Canada. When the Fenians landed, militia battalions across the colonies mobilized to meet the threat. This was true also of the 1st Bruce Militia. The 1st Bruce, under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Emerson Belcher, boarded a steamer and headed for Goderich. Belcher wrote that the men were deeply anxious and many were afraid of the battle to come. Goderich was considered, due to its railroad terminus, to be a prime attack target for the Fenian Raiders. Specifically, a Fenian unit was rumoured to be organizing in Chicago. The government of Canada feared that the Fenians would move from Chicago, attack Goderich, and take control of the railroad hub there. For this reason, the 1st Bruce Militia were boarded on the steamer Bruce and steamed directly for Goderich. There the 1st Bruce waited for the Fenians to arrive. The harbour was entrenched behind earthworks and artillery. For four weeks, the 1st Bruce remained on the alert, ready to receive the Fenian veterans. Finally, the alarm came, a steamer was sighted off the harbour with no visible flag. From that moment the 1st Bruce steeled themselves for battle, expecting the green and silver flag to fly over a ship full of Fenian warriors. That flag did not rise. Instead the ship bore the colours of the United States. Onboard was General William Techumseh Sherman, a famous commander for the Union in the American Civil War, who was on a cruise. This relief was soon tempered when the alarm once again rang. The Fenians were landing in nearby Bayfield, Ontario. The scene of the 1st Bruce in Goderich was chaotic. The men raced out of their beds, putting on their uniforms and cross belts so quickly that many were inside out or backward. Once the men of the 1st had formed, they quickly moved towards Bayfield. The men were distributed their ammunition of 50 cartridges. This grim task was lightened by the actions of a man whose son was in the militia company. The man, identified as Gregg, had followed the mobilized militia in order to offer cheers and encouragement. Gregg, apparently deciding that the men needed food as well as words, purchased cheese and biscuits for the 1st Bruce. Having enjoyed their snack of cheese and biscuits, the men resumed their march until they reached Point Edward. It was at this point that the 1st Bruce Militia learned that it had once again mobilized to fight a phantom threat. The alarm was false and the Fenians were nowhere to be found. As it happened, the 1st Bruce did play a role in repelling the invading Fenians, but not in the way they expected. The 1st Bruce never met the Fenians in battle; however, the mass mobilization of militia demonstrated to O'Neil that his invasion was an impossible task. Though he had won an absolute victory at Ridgeway and captured Old Fort Erie, O'Neil lacked sufficient forces to occupy any portion of Upper Canada in the face of the gathering militia. Thus, not through battlefield defeat but instead through mobilization of arms, the Fenians were compelled to withdraw. By July, the 1st Bruce Militia had dispersed from Goderich. Though their role was small, the 1st Bruce Militia played a critical role in this bloodless victory by its own mobilization. In the words of Lieutenant-Colonel Belcher "we returned home full of glory, honor, and pleasant memories." One Walkerton man had a far more deadly experience of the Fenian Raids. Thomas Dixon was not born in Bruce County, but was a Crown Attorney in the County during the 1870s and 1880s. During his legal education in Toronto, the Fenians invaded the Niagara Region in June 1866. Dixon, a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Queen's Own Rifles was mobilized for the defence of Canada. Unlike many of Canada's militia regiments, the Queen�s Own Rifles engaged the enemy at Ridgeway. The battle nearly cost Thomas Dixon his life. Leaning against a fence rail, the young man, resplendent in his scarlet coat, stood in the front rank of his battalion, firing at the Fenian skirmishers. During the engagement, bullets struck the fence protecting Dixon and flew about his head. Dixon maintained his position until the soldier beside him, a fellow student, was struck by a ball in the chest, killing him. When Dixon looked to his fallen comrade, he realized that much of the company had taken cover by lying on the ground and he was, in fact, the most visibly exposed man in his unit. Dixon quickly rectified this by taking cover as well. Dixon held this position until the disastrous Fenian bayonet charge which broke the Queen's Own Rifles.

1870 Red River Rebellion article

1870 Red River Rebellion By Chris Neudorf, BCM&CC Student, 2014 The militia of Bruce County were involved in the suppression of the Red River Rebellion in 1870. Specifically, Bruce County contributed soldiers and pioneers to the Red River Expeditionary Force under Colonel Wolseley. The Red River Expedition is one of the great forgotten mobile campaigns in military history. Though the campaign was ultimately fruitless as the rebellion was quelled before the campaign could reach its conclusion the movement of troops effected by the undertaking was monumental. Volunteers for the expedition were taken from various Canadian militia companies. Each company was asked to offer three volunteers for service with the RREF. The militia companies of Bruce County were quick to oblige this request. The Walkerton Company was particularly enthusiastic. When the captain of the Walkerton Company asked for three volunteers, ten answered the call simultaneously. One of the men chosen was Joseph Quinn, who would join the temporary 1st Ontario Rifles. Quinn received a Red River General Service Medal for his actions. With the Rifles, Quinn joined Wolseley in the seemingly impossible march to Red River. Likely as a result of strained Anglo-American relations after the Civil War, the United States refused to allow a British Expeditionary Force to cross its soil in order to reach Red River. Thus, the movement of hundreds of men, small arms, ordinance, artillery, ammunition, mules, horses, and rations necessary to maintain the march, was to be accomplished on territory only recently explored, with no trains and few roads available. This feat of mobility could only be accomplished via the implementation of a transport company. These were men who were hired by the expedition to act as sapper units. The men, though not technically military, were to be subject to military discipline and law. For the recruitment of these transporters, Colonel Wolsely sought the hardy stock of rural Ontario. It was therefore only natural that Bruce County would contribute greatly to their ranks. In all, over 20 men from Bruce County volunteered in order to achieve one of the 19th century's most difficult military movements. By their incredible work and steadfastness, not only was the actual mobilization a success, but not a single soldier was lost in the expedition. By the labour of these Bruce County volunteers, one of the most difficult mobilizations in history was a success.

1885 North West Rebellion article

1885 North-West Rebellion By Chris Neudorf, BCM&CC student, 2014 In 1885 the North-West Rebellion began. At Duck Lake, the Canadian Federal forces suffered a clear defeat by Metis militia. The defeat demonstrated the need for militia, and the 32nd Bruce Battalion was mobilized for action. The Battalion organized in the town of Southampton. Though the Battalion was concentrated there for ten days, the government decided that the Rebellion could in fact be put down with the numbers at hand and the militia was dispersed. Despite this, some men of Bruce County did in fact see battle in the Rebellion. The opening shots of the North-West Rebellion were fired on March 26, 1885, near Duck Lake. The Federal forces at Duck Lake were composed of 53 Mounted Police, and the 41 men of the Prince Albert Volunteers and their officers. The Prince Albert Volunteers were organized and mustered exclusively in response to the Rebellion. The Volunteers were led by none other than Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Sproat. One Captain in the company was John Morton. Before his intitial retirement, Morton had been a Major in the 32nd Bruce Battalion. On March 26, 1885, Morton and Sproat led the Prince Albert Volunteers in the first battle of the North-West Rebellion. At Duck Lake, Morton led his platoon of the Volunteer Company in the face of heavy enemy fire, and he was killed in battle. His body lies in St. Mary's Church, Alberta. Morton was perhaps the first son of Bruce County to die in the service of Canada. He would not be the last. Not long after the death of Morton, the Federal forces retreated.

Remembering our Early Militia article

Bruce County Militia With the Militia Act of 1855, every able man from 18 to 60 was deemed to be part of the militia. Men were required to be ready for service when summoned. When service became voluntary, Bruce County's militia formed into four units: Southampton, Paisley, Kincardine and Kincardine Township. On September 14, 1866 these units were joined to form the 32nd Bruce Battalion. Men were put into various classes, depending on their age and marital status. In 1869 the classes consisted of: First Class - unmarried men or widowers, between 18 and 29, without children; Second Class - unmarried men or widowers, between 30 and 44, without children; Third Class - married men or widowers, between 18 and 44, with children; and Fourth Class - all men between 45 and 60. The men of Bruce County trained together for two weeks per year in London, Ont. and throughout the year locally. They were called into active service a few times before the First World War. They were assembled, but never saw action, for the Fenian Raids, the Red River Rebellion and the North-West Rebellion. At the turn of the 20th century, some volunteered for active service in the South African War. At the same time, the 32nd became a Regiment. When the First World War began, many of the men of the 32nd Bruce Regiment enlisted to serve in the regular Canadian Forces. In December 1915, the Bruce Regiment became the 160th Bruce Battalion and was charged with raising a force of over 1,100 men to serve overseas. This was a challenge, but one that the commanders were up to. They brought in over 1,300 enlistees! After the Great War, the 32nd was once again the local militia. In 1936 the Bruce and Wellington County Regiments were disbanded. The 97th and 98th Batteries were formed in Walkerton and Port Elgin as part of the 21st Field Brigade, Royal Canadian Artillery. Also included in the 21st were Wingham and Listowel. The units reformed as militia field artillery after the Second World War. They attended summer training camps at such places as Petawawa, London and Niagara. The regimental rifle team often brought honours to the unit, winning the Central Command Rifle Firing trophy numerous times as well as the Western Ontario Area Rifle Competition for Militia. In 1965 the inactive 98th was placed on the Supplementary Order of Battle, but the 21st Field Artillery Regiment continued with Batteries in Walkerton, Wingham and Listowel. The 21st was disbanded in 1970. Now Bruce County residents can join the Grey & Simcoe Foresters should they choose to volunteer for service in Canada's Militia.

For more information about this site contact us or visit us online at Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre.

© 2015 Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre. Ownership of the images on this site belongs to the BCM&CC or individuals as identified.