Section K, Lot 72
On May 31, 1866, members of the Queen’s Own Regiment of Volunteers (now the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada) were attending an evening concert at the old Mechanics Institute at Church and Adelaide Streets, when an officer entered the hall and announced that the battalion had been placed on active service. On June 1st, 1,340 members of the Fenian Brotherhood of America, harbouring the belief that capturing British North America (the four provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East and Canada West – also Upper and Lower Canada) would force Great Britain to relinquish control over Ireland, launched an assault on the Niagara area. The Fenian insurgents were led by Brigadier general John O'Neill, a former Union cavalry commander who had specialised in anti-guerrilla warfare. Crossing the river at Black Rock (now part of Buffalo), they landed on Canadian soil at Fort Erie shortly after dawn, tore up the railway tracks leading into the town, cut telegraph lines and stole supplies and horses from the residents. A large contingent of poorly equipped but eager volunteers headed into battle some 100 miles from their peaceful homes in Toronto. Meanwhile, instead of pressing their attack, the Fenians bivouacked overnight just northeast of the small community of Ridgeway. On June 2, they made for Ridgeway, and ran into a small band of the Queen’s Own.
The battle was short and deadly. When the smoke cleared, seven Canadians (five from Toronto) were dead. Two more were so badly wounded they died within hours. Six others died later of diseases contracted during the brief campaign. Ensign Malcolm McEachren was apparently the first Torontonian to be killed at the Battle of Ridgeway. He was 34 years old when he was shot on June 2, 1866.
The battle at Ridgeway was followed by a Fenian victory later in the afternoon, over the heavily outnumbered Canadian volunteer Welland Field Battery and the Dunnville Naval Brigade at Fort Erie. However, the rapid convergence of large British and Canadian reinforcements convinced the Fenians to return to the United States – on logs, on rafts, or by swimming. O'Neill and 850 Fenians surrendered their arms to waiting U.S. authorities.