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The Chicago Volunteers

The Chicago Volunteers--A Noble Band of Patriots Return Home to Defend Their Native Land--A Striking Example of Canadian Patriotism.


No matter where you find a true Canadian, he holds in the depths of his heart a love and reverence for his native land and its flag which cannot be uprooted. He may "roam 'neath alien skies" or tread a foreign shore, but his heart ever beats true to his homeland, and when his services are required in defence of her shores he does not as a rule require to be summoned hence. He acts on the impulse of the occasion, and quickly buckles on his armor to take the field for the honor of his country.

This national trait was never more spontaneously illustrated than during the perilous periods of the Fenian Raids. Many of the stalwart sons of Canada were temporarily residing in the United States at these times, and had exceptional opportunities of noticing the constant preparations that were being made by the Fenian plotters to invade the land of their birth. Oft-times, perhaps, they were reminded by their American and Fenian shopmates or fellow-employees, of the fact that they were aliens, who were only permitted to reside in the United States on sufferance, and insults and epithets would be hurled at them because they were "bloody Canucks." But the Canadian boys always kept a stiff upper lip, and when insolence became too intolerable they were not afraid to assert their manhood by the use of a little physical force, and teach their tormentors that a Canadian has rights which all men are bound to respect.

Quite a colony of Canadians resided in the City of Chicago, Illinois, in 1866, many of them holding lucrative positions in employment where brains, energy and confidence were the chief essentials required. As a natural result these loyal boys chafed in spirit, and their breasts heaved in indignation, when they observed the open encouragement and financial assistance which was being given to the Fenians by the citizens of that metropolis to enable them to carry out their nefarious plans to conquer Canada.

For the purpose of meeting together for mutual counsel, and more firmly welding the bonds of loyalty and unity among themselves, these young men organized the "Chicago Canadian Society," with Mr. John Ford (an old Toronto boy) as President. The formation of this Association in one of the hottest hot-beds of Fenianism in America, required men of courage and reliance to uphold its principles, and in this they were specially fortunate. From the President down to the most youthful member they were all "hearts of oak"--men who unflinchingly stood by their principles, and had their love of country so deep at heart that they resolved to sacrifice their positions and return to their native land to offer their services to the Government as soon as occasion demanded. They accordingly organized a military company, with the sturdy patriot. John Ford, as their Captain, and began drilling.

They had not long to wait before the news was received in Chicago that the Fenians had landed in Canada, and that the time for action had arrived. So the "Chicago Volunteers" at once decided to individually resign their situations and leave for "the Land of the Maple" to fight for their flag. While the Company was making preparations for their journey, Capt. Ford was sent ahead to make the necessary arrangements at Windsor for their reception, and to formally offer their services to the Government. Capt. Ford had a dangerous trip en route, as many of the most violent Chicago Fenians knew him personally and were inclined to "put him out of business." But the Captain was a stalwart, determined young man, full of fire and courage, and being ready for any emergency, he succeeded in getting through to Windsor without any serious trouble, although dogged all the way by Fenians, who only waited an opportunity to assault him. On arrival at Windsor he consulted with Mr. Gilbert McMicken, the Police Magistrate, who advised him to proceed on to Toronto with his Company. He then telegraphed his comrades to come along, and they quickly answered the summons. That night the whole Company of 57 men left Chicago for Canada, and great was their delight when they lined up at Windsor the next morning under the folds of the Union Jack, and gave three hearty cheers for their Queen and country. Two companies of volunteers, accompanied by the Mayor and a large concourse of citizens, were at the railway ferry dock to meet the boys, and gave them a great reception.

They then proceeded by the Great Western Railway to Toronto, receiving hearty ovations at London, Hamilton and every station at which they stopped, until they arrived at their destination at 10 o'clock on the night of June 5th. They were met at the depot by a guard of honor composed of two companies of volunteers, His Worship Mayor Metcalfe, and a large number of citizens, and escorted to the Drill Shed, where short addresses were delivered to them by the Mayor, Hon. George Brown, Mr. T. M. Daly, and others, thanking them warmly for their patriotism and manly conduct in making personal sacrifices to return to their native soil and defend their country in a time of peril.

Capt. Ford and Lieut. G. R. Kingsmill replied in suitable terms on behalf of their Chicago comrades, saying that they could vouch that every man would do his duty fearlessly, should their services be required. They both stated that if necessary an entire regiment could have been raised in Chicago for the defence of Canada, so ardent were the Canadians in that city to assist in driving out the invaders.

After hearty cheers had been given for the Queen, the Chicago Volunteers, and the men on duty at the front, the Chicago men were marched to the Metropolitan Hotel and the Robinson House, where refreshments and lodgings had been provided for them for the night.

On the following morning this band of patriots formally tendered their services to the Government as a company to be enrolled as volunteers for the defence of the Province. The Mayor and Col. Durie (Assistant Adjutant-General) called on Gen. Napier, and presented the offer, which was immediately accepted by the General on behalf of the Government. At the same time he spoke in the most complimentary terms of the patriotic spirit evinced by these gallant young men, and desired Col. Durie and the Mayor to convey his views to them.

The corps was named "No. 1 Company of Volunteers for Canada," and the following officers were chosen: Captain. John Ford; Lieutenant, George R. Kingsmill; Ensign. Hector Ross; 1st Sergeant, Samuel Ridout; 2nd Sergeant, T. D. Skinner; 3rd Sergeant, W. F. Collins; 4th Sergeant, J. H. Cornish; 1st Corporal,

John Allen; 2nd Corporal, G. J. Fitzsimmons; 3rd Corporal, John Ginn; Lance Corporal, George McKay. The privates were: C. T. Wright. B. Baskerville, R. Gilbert. T. English, R. Mason, J. Moore, F. Gatrell, T. G. Rice. R. S. Shenston, W. E. Richards, W. Grain, W. Skinner, C. J. Mitchell. S. Langford, J. Cavers, S. McKay, G. B. Roberts. J. Hillman. F. Baker, J. C. Keighley, J. J. Innes, C. Rubidge. L. Werden. W. Orr. J. Fraser, J. Wickens, J. G. Kinnear, W. H. Rice, George Morehead, John Travers, W. Beck, Luke E. Kingsmill, S. Gordon, E. Smith, G. Mothersill. W. S. Cottingham, S. Langford, A. Babley, J. W. Dunn, S. McCallum, W. Ford, 0. S. Hillman. J. Healey, C. C. Baines, James J. James, and F. W. Nation.

The Chicago Volunteers remained on guard duty at Toronto until all danger was passed, when they were relieved from service and permitted to return to their homes. Previous to their departure a grand reception was given in their honor at the Music Hall, where an immense concourse of people assembled to assist in paying them a royal tribute of praise for their loyal service.

His Worship Mayor Metcalfe presided, and after delivering a splendid patriotic oration, presented Capt. Ford and his comrades with an address from the Mayor and Corporation of the City of Toronto, expressive of the high opinion of their patriotism that prevailed among the citizens and their countrymen generally.

The address was accompanied by the presentation of a handsome Union Jack, on which was inscribed, "Presented to the Chicago Volunteers by the City Council. Toronto."

Capt. Ford and his officers replied in fitting terms to the sentiments expressed by the Mayor, and assured him that should occasion ever again arise to necessitate their services, they would promptly respond to the summons.

Capt. John Ford (who at the date of issue of this book is still alive and as full of fire and patriotism as in days of yore) is a well-known and highly respected citizen of Toronto, whose friends are many. By request of the author he has given the following personal recollections of the organization of "The Chicago Volunteers" and their trip home to Canada, which I feel will prove of great interest to the reader:--

"As all old citizens of Toronto will well remember, they had for neighbors years ago some who were keen sympathizers with the Fenians, and whose relatives were seen in Fenian processions in Chicago and other American cities. As circumstances took many young men from Canada to the States, we found on foregathering on one occasion in the old Post Office in Chicago, in 1864, that we numbered 75, all former citizens of Toronto. We then organized the "Chicago Canadian Society," meeting weekly for drill and social purposes in the hall of the American Protestant Association. Our drill instructors were Military School cadets, holding first and second-class certificates. We found that the Fenian organization was raising money and manufacturing pikes, and in the year 1864 they held an Irish National Fair for the purpose of increasing their fund. Quite a number of Canadians visited the Fair, and saw soil or turf from Ireland sold in envelopes for 25 cents each, and also "Irish bonds," to be redeemed on the consummation of the object of the Fenian organization, or the capture of Canada; and to show the ease in which they expected to accomplish this end, a stuffed lion was shown with its tail between its legs, and head down, covered with a calf-skin. On lifting the calf-skin the calf's head appeared, their idea evidently being to cast ridicule on the bravery of the British lion or the nation.

"On the evening of May 24th, 1865, we held a banquet in the Washington Coffee House, which was largely attended, and the toast of 'The Queen and Royal Family,' and other patriotic sentiments, were enthusiastically honored.

"On attending one of the Fenian recruiting meetings in Metropolitan Hall, we saw upwards of 1,000 veteran cavalry men enrolled for service, who, it was announced, were to be mounted on horses between Hamilton and Toronto. This enrollment was only part of the 37,000 guaranteed by the delegates from Illinois at the National Convention of the Fenian Brotherhood in 1865, when the total guarantee was 250,000 men. Needless to say, we were thoroughly alarmed, and prepared to leave for home on short notice.

"On the day of the Raid (June 2nd, 1866) at about 3 p.m., it was reported in Chicago that 30,000 men had crossed into Canada, had destroyed the Welland Canal, and were advancing on Stoney Creek, expecting to be in Hamilton that night. We had wired Toronto for information, and went from one telegraph office to another in vain for answers. We found out afterwards that our telegrams were lying unopened on Mayor Metcalfe's table on the following Tuesday, as that gentleman was away at the front.

"We held a meeting at Chicago on Saturday, June 2nd, 1866, and organized a second company to follow the first to Canada, provided their services would be accepted and they could get to the front. The St. George's Society guaranteed to organize more companies, which would total 1,000 men.

"Comrade Forbes and myself were appointed delegates to proceed to Detroit and open communications with the military authorities at Windsor, and offer our services. We arrived at Detroit at early dawn on Monday, June 4th, and were very much relieved, on looking across the river through the haze, to recognize the scarlet coats of the soldiers on duty on the Canadian shore. We crossed to Windsor, and met Col. McMicken; who immediately wired Hon. John A. Macdonald, Minister of Militia, tendering our services. The answer arrived in Windsor between 3 and 4 o'clock, when Col. McMicken advised me to wire the company in Chicago, and to avoid international complications he instructed us to do this in a private manner. We then sent the following message to the company: 'Ship what you have, and buy up the rest.' In Chicago the company awaited instructions in the A. P. A. Hall, and on receiving our telegram they marched to the depot through enthusiastic crowds of sympathizers, singing, "Rule, Britannia" and other patriotic songs. On arrival at the depot, Dr. Bigelow, a sympathizer, took off his Panama hat, placed a $5 greenback in it, and passed it around, raising $20 more than was required to pay the Michigan Central Railroad for two first-class coaches, which had been arranged for by Lieut. Kingsmill with the General Manager of the Michigan Central, who very courteously allowed us the same rates charged the United States Government when moving troops. Lieut. Kingsmill agreed to place a guard at each end of the coaches, and allow no one to enter except members of the company.

"The company arrived at Detroit early on Tuesday morning, June 5th. Col. McMicken gave Comrade Forbes and myself a pass to go to Detroit and meet the company, advising us to allow no demonstration until we had passed the centre of the river and were in Canadian waters. The company followed the advice, and when the steamer crossed the line the men went wild with enthusiasm, and were royally received in Windsor by the military authorities. This was repeated at London and Hamilton. The company arrived in Toronto on the night of Tuesday, June 5th. It took the entire police force to get the men off the train, owing to the delight of their friends and the cheering crowds who came to welcome us home. The company was then escorted to the Drill Shed by the military companies, where patriotic speeches were made by Mayor Metcalfe, Hon. Geo. Brown, and others."

Chicago was not alone in the matter of exemplifying Canadian patriotism during this trying period, as loyal sons of Canada came trooping home from nearly every quarter of the United States, and gallantly took their places in the ranks wherever a vacant place could be found. Thousands of others wrote home, volunteering their services if necessity required. These men deserve special mention on the pages of Canadian history, and it is a pleasure to the author of this book to put on record the splendid spirit of patriotism they displayed when their beloved Canada was in danger. Very many of them have passed away from earth, but their memories and worth will long be remembered by those who knew them best. To their descendants, and to all young Canadians, the loyal spirit which animated them should strongly appeal, and their deeds be emulated whenever danger threatens their native land.


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Troublous Times in Canada, A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870

Fenian Raids of 1866 - 1870

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