Monday, October 24, 2011

The Royal Townships : The hard life of the Loyalists

By : Dennis Stein

  The end of the American Revolutionary War meant difficult times for those who remained loyal to the crown. Most of the 'Loyalists' fled with only the clothes on their backs, leaving their homes, livestock, and all possessions behind. They took refuge in Quebec, under Governor Haldimand, who took on the responsibility of caring for the Loyalists. Most were former militia or British regulars, along with their families. Their situation quickly became dire, and they petitioned the Governor, who in turn sought help from the British government. England wanted to reward the Loyalists for their service, and set out to award lands to be settled to the west. Nine townships were surveyed, with lots being awarded by lottery to the loyalists and their families, in acreages based on their rank. Even lone men who had no families with them, and were not from the military in any way still received small parcels of land. The lottery upset some of the former British officers, who argued that they should be able to choose their lots as opposed to drawing them by ballot. The system remained in place however, and by the spring  of 1784, the loyalists were settling on their lands, having been brought up the St.Lawrence river by batteaux, which were capable of handling 3 to 4 tons. Seed and some livestock had been procured, and each settler was given an axe and a hoe, while several families would share blacksmith and carpentry tools. Glass and nails were hard to come by, dificult to transport, and expensive to buy, and to add to that, most of the loyalists had not arrived until summer on their lands, leaving little time to plant any kind of crop, let alone clear land or build suitable shelter. During the summer of 1784, tents could be seen along the St. Lawrence river, and it could be imagined that the Loyalists suffered a tough first winter. But after two years, after meeting criteria for clearing land for crops and/or livestock ( 5 acres ) and building of a house, the settlers would receive crown patents for their land.
  As time progressed, more settlers came, and things became somewhat easier. The land became 'improved' with roads along each concession, and cleared land for farming. Buildings and small towns sprang up slowly, and the earliest beginnings of Ontario were carved from the wilderness. The Royal Townships seeded the birth of a new British colony, and Canada was truly born.

Morning on The River...

The Mighty Fort Wellington

By : Dennis Stein

  Fort Wellington was built during the War of 1812, to defend British shipping routes on the St.lawrence river. Constructed in the town of Prescott, its ramparts stood watch over the river against the threat of American invasion, and guarded the entrance to the Galop Rapids. It was never attacked itself, being constructed of earthen ramparts forming a square,along with horizontal pickets, and casemates dug into the ramparts used for storage. British authorities always voiced an opinion that the fort was poorly built, and only a modest military threat,  but her most important military asset was the 24 pounder cannons on the southeast and southwest corners of the ramparts. These guns could fire directly on buildings in Ogdensburg, New York, and guard against american ships traveling the river. The fort saw action in November of 1813, when an american army under General Wilkinson approached from upriver, making their way to a planned attack on Montreal.  Wilkinson was afraid of Fort Wellington’s guns however, and landed his troops upriver from Ogdensburg, marching them through town at night, while his empty ships slipped past. Wilkinson was stopped by a much smaller force of British, Canadian and mohawk warriors at Crysler’s Farm near Morrisburg. After this, the war of 1812 came to an end, and the Fort was mostly abandoned. Inside the ramparts, the timber buildings and casemates quickly deteriorated.
  In the spring of 1838, trouble was brewing once again in Upper Canada. A rebellion was being organized by a group of former Canadian political dissidents, including William Lyon Mackenzie, who along with americans called the Hunter Patriots planned to attack and seize the Fort, and the town of Prescott. Their attempt to land at the wharf in Prescott was repelled by Canadian militia, who had been tipped off as to the approaching trouble. The Hunters landed at Windmill point, and were defeated shortly after. During this time, the Fort had been rebuilt to counter the American threat, now hosting a central three story blockhouse, an Officer’s quarters, Latrine, cookhouse, and a guardhouse. The cannons were remounted, and a stone caponiere was dug through the south facing rampart, accessed from the main yard through a tunnel.
  The fort continued to serve Canada even during the first and second World Wars, housing soldiers on their way overseas to fight. Today Fort Wellington has been refurbished to look as it was in 1864, with tours from May until LabourDay. The third floor of the blockhouse has been made into a museum, and Parks Canada interpreters provide a glimpse into the past, while fully clothed in period dress. A new facility is now being constructed next to the fort, to house the ‘gunboat exhibit’ formerly housed at Mallorytown Landing, and should be open soon. For more historical articles, point your browser to