Monthly Archives: August 2013

When the British Attacked Maine

English: The view of the Penobscot River near ...

The view of the Penobscot River near Winterport  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When the United States declared war on Britain in 1812 with the intention of capturing Canada, many people in the New England States were opposed to the war and there was a movement to secede from the Union.  This was one of the reasons why the Maritime Provinces were not attacked, except by raiders from the sea.

The Maritimers did not feel the same about attacking the States.  They contended that the New Brunswick-Maine border should be the Penobscot River, south of the St. Croix.  The United States claimed certain islands in Passamaquoddy Bay that Maritimers felt should belong to Britain.

Late in May 1814, the garrison at Halifax received the news that Napoleon had been beaten and sent to exile.  Plans were put into effect to capture Maine, and a force was sent to Shelburne.  It was reinforced by more troops from Bermuda brought by Captain Thomas Hardy, one of Nelson’s great officers.

There was no problem capturing Eastport.  It was defended by only 80 bored soldiers, who were glad to pull down the Stars and Stripes in surrender.  Sir John Sherbrooke, the soldier-governor of Nova Scotia, attacked the fort at Castine on August 31, 1814.  He had a naval squadron and 1, 800 troops.  There was little opposition and the British were able to get up the river to Bangor easily.  Another force took Machias.

With eastern Maine in British hands, a number of citizens took the oath of allegiance to Britain, so that they could resume trade with British ports all over the world.  Castine became the chief customs house, and by the end of the year more than £13,000 had been collected.

When Maine was returned to the States at the end of the war, the money was taken to Halifax and placed in a special account called the “Castine fund.”   It was used later to found Dalhousie University.

The States made no effort to drive the British troops out of Maine and they lived  with the Americans in harmony.  By this time, both sides were eager to end a war that should never have begun.  Negotiations were then taking place at Ghent in Belgium.


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‘Tis Money Rules the World Now …

Canadian money

Canadian money (Photo credit: KittyCanuck)

One of the big events in Britain in 1965 was the decision to change the system of currency from the complicated pounds, shillings and pence, to the decimal system.  Canada might have been stuck with pounds, shillings and pence in the 1850s if it had not been for a hard battle by Finance Minister Hincks and others.

When the United States adopted the decimal system in 1808, Canada tried unsuccessfully to do the same.  Britain wanted to keep Canada in the “sterling bloc,” using its currency.  Various measures were passed by the Parliament of Canada after the Act of Union in 1840 but were disallowed by the British Government.  Finally a compromise was reached on August 30, 1851, but it was not until January 1, 1858, that the decimal system of currency became effective.  Problems were created  when New Brunswick and Nova Scotia joined Canada in 1867, and other provinces after that.

Some unusual forms of currencies were used in Canada over the years.  Even playing cards (see my April 18 post: Playing Cards Become Money?!).  when Britain took Canada from France in 1763, there were 800,000 livres of unredeemed paper money in circulation, and many people were big losers.

Then Spanish silver dollars gained wide acceptance, many of them coming into circulation through illicit trade.  These dollars had different values in different places.  In New York a dollar would be worth eight shillings, but only five in Halifax.   In Quebec silver dollars were called “Halifax currency”, while Montreal called them “York currency.”  One problem was to get metal coins small enough to make change.  merchants used to curt the Spanish dollars into smaller pieces known as “four bits”, and “two bits”, expressions still (though, admittedly not widely) in use not that long ago, meaning 50 or 25 cents.

Currency complications continued as late as 1881, as new provinces joined Confederation.  Their currencies were taken out of circulation gradually and redeemed.  Even in the 1920s, a paper bill, known as a “shin-plaster” (worth 25 cents, was often seen.

” ‘Tis money rules the world now,
It’s rank and education,
It’s power and knowledge, sense and worth,
And pious reputation.
Get cash, and ‘gainst all human ills,
You’re armed and you’re defended,
For in it even here on earth,
All heaven is comprehended.”

“Halifax Currency”

Term used for the Spanish silver dollar rated at five shillings of about twenty cents each in Nova Scotia. It was used from 1750 until 1751.

“York Currency”

The Spanish reale in terms of the New York price of twelve and one-half cents was used in Ontario, and thus was distinguished from the Halifax shilling of about twenty cents. It was used between 1800 and 1850.

Too many men salt away money in the brine of other people’s tears.
–  BOB EDWARDS, 1917


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Expressions of Regret

The Quebec Bridge collapsed on 11 September 19...

The Quebec Bridge collapsed on 11 September 1916 a second time due to poor design work and materials. The bridge, which was conceived to be one of the most advanced in the world, had already collapsed under similar circumstances in 1907. Eighty-five workers perished in that tragedy prompting a Dominion Royal Commission to investigate the catastrophic failure. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People sailing to Canada for the first time are always thrilled to pass under the Quebec Bridge.  When completed in September 1917, it was the biggest bridge in the world, although it no longer holds that distinction.  The plan to build a bridge across the St. Lawrence, eight miles above Quebec, was first proposed in 1853.  Before it was completed in 1917, the Quebec Bridge had fallen down twice, with the loss of seventy-three lives.

The original plan would have cost $3 million, but no engineer would undertake its construction.  In 1882, the idea was revised when the famous Firth of Fourth bridge was built in Scotland.  Sir James Brunless, who built the Firth bridge, was brought over to Canada as a consultant, but work progressed slowly.  Finally the job was entrusted to a New York firm.

On completion day, August 29, 1907, with thousands watching, the southern cantilever suddenly collapsed.  The crash killed sixty workmen and injured eleven others, as tons of twisted steel sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence.  There was a dramatic sight as a priest administered the last rites to a man caught inside a girder.  There were no devices capable of cutting metal quickly enough in those days, and he drowned as the water rose inside the girder.

The Laurier government then stepped in and put the Department of Railways in charge.  The contract was awarded to the St. Lawrence Bridge Company with two Canadian steel companies supplying the materials.  On September 11, 1916, another large crowd assembled to see the centre span raised into place.  It was floated down the St. Lawrence on six steel barges.  Thousands watched from the shores or from small boats in the river.  There was great cheering and waving of handkerchiefs as the giant cranes began to lift the span from the barges.  As it rose to about 4.5 meters (15 feet) above the water, there was a crack like a rifle-shot and the span plunged into the river.  Thirteen men were killed.

The Quebec Bridge by night, crossing the Saint...

The Quebec Bridge by night, crossing the Saint Lawrence River, in Quebec City, Canada. Since its opening in 1919, it is the longest cantilever bridge span in the world, at 549 m. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another centre span was built and floated down the river.  The huge cranes began lifting it on September 15, 1917 and it was in its place by September 20.  The Quebec Bridge had finally been completed.

I really only have one site to suggest about the Quebec Bridge disasters. The Engineers Aspect blog. Great article there!


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Canadian History – Bicycles in War?

This is an amazing story, with great photos, worth re-blogging! Enjoy! – tk

Urkai Community

After doing a little research, I discovered, Canadian Troops used bicycles in WW2! I am astounded that in all of my history classes, as well as having every last family member of WW2 generation, involved in the war, I had no idea that bicycles were used. I am now on a mission to head to a couple of museums, to discover more about this incredible piece of history.

canadian troops

Canadian Troops Landing at Juno Beach June 6, 1944 Photographer: Gilbert Milne Library and Archives Canada

Canadian troops1

Troops from Highland Light Infantry and the West Nova Scotia Highlanders June 5, 1944 Photographer: Gilbert Milne

Canadian troops2


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Posted by on August 28, 2013 in Fact of the Day, Reblogged, Transportation, WWII


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Relations and Other Documents

Paul Le Jeune


On August 28, 1632, Paul Le Jeune sent his first report of mission work and Iroquois life to the Provincial of the Jesuit Order in France, Father Bartholémy Jacquinot.  It was an account of his trip to the New World.

The first of the annual Jesuit Relations, spanning 40 years in the life of New France.  He was Superior of the Jesuits in Québec from 1632 to 1639.

To read The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents 1610 to 1791, you can find them at Creighton University – there is a lot there, but worth the visit!


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a.k.a. Radishes & Gooseberry

Français : Arrivée de Pierre-Esprit Radisson d...

Français : Arrivée de Pierre-Esprit Radisson dans un camp amérindien en 1660. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is an opportunity to describe something of Pierre Radisson‘s career, because it was on August 28, 1661, that he and his brother-in-law Chourart des Groseilliers began their great partnership that led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Pierre Radisson’s adventures began as a young boy at Trois Rivières, Quebec.  He was captured by a band of Iroquois while hunting ducks and taken to their village in the State of New York.  Somehow he managed to attract the attention of an Indian woman who had lost a son of about the same age and she adopted him.  Radisson gained some knowledge of the language and customs of the Iroquois which helped him save a Jesuit mission after he escaped (see my March 19 – After Dinner We Escaped post).

Radisson and Groseilliers formed a fur-trading partnership.  They went as far west as Lake Superior, where they were very successful.  There is some possibility that they were the first white men to see the Mississippi River.

Soon after, Radisson and Groseilliers were fined for  fur-trading infractions and decided to offer their services to the British.  They met Sir George Carteret, a good friend of King Charles II.  Carteret took Radisson and Groseilliers to England to tell their stories to Charles.  The king, and especially his cousin, Prince Rupert, were greatly impressed by Radisson and Groseilliers, although they could not pronounce their names.  They were usually called “Radishes and Gooseberry.”

They fitted out an expedition to Hudson Bay to bring back furs.  Groseilliers so impressed King Charles with his fur-laden cargo that Charles formed the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay on May 2, 1670.

Even so, Radisson and Groseilliers were displeased because King Charles only gave them a “gold chain and medal.”  They returned to Canada and, working for both the French and Dutch, later led an expedition to drive the English out of Hudson’s Bay.  The story of Radisson’s life becomes complicated and is difficult to follow, especially as most of it was written by Radisson himself.  In any event, he returned to England in 1684, and was given shares in the Hudson’s Bay Company.  When he died the company gave his widow £6 in recognition of his work!

To learn more about this, I highly recommend Micheline’s Blog – a place where Micheline tackles so many history topics! If you have the time, I also suggest reading The Discovery of Lake Superior – you can read it online, or download for later reading.


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Never Was So Much Owed By So Many To So Few

Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. (L-R...

Commonwealth Prime Ministers’ Conference. (L-R): Rt. Hon. W.L. Mackenzie King (Canada), General Jan Smuts (South Africa), Rt. Hon. Winston Churchill (United Kingdom), Rt. Hons. Peter Fraser (New Zealand), John Curtin (Australia). Location:London, U.K. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sir Winston Churchill became such a great hero to Canadians in World War II that it was forgotten or forgiven that his name had been anathema to many people before and after World War I.

In the great naval controversy between Liberals and Conservatives from 1911 to the outbreak of war in 1914, Churchill, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, had openly supported the Conservatives’ position: that Canada should not try to create a navy, but should spend the money strengthening the Royal Navy.

In 1922 Churchill burst upon the Canadian political scene again.  This time W. L. Mackenzie King and a Liberal government were in power.  Turkey, as an ally of Germany, had been defeated in the war.  Under the Treaty of Versailles, the Allies had kept control of the Dardenelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus, dividing Europe and Asia.  An international commission, on which Sir Robert Borden represented British interests, gave Gallipoli and Smyrna to Greece.  A young Turkish officer, Mustapha Kemal, organized a government of his own to free Turkey.  On August 27, 1922, Canadians read that Kemal had launched an all-out attack on the Greeks in Smyrna.  Within two weeks, Smyrna had been captured and the British garrison at Chanak, headquarters of the army of occupation was trapped.  Would Kemal go on and attack the British?

Winston Churchill, who had become Colonial Secretary, and Lord Chancellor Birkenhead, issued a press statement, without Cabinet approval, that Britain had invited the British Dominions to send troops to help defend the British position at Chanak.  Prime Minister Mackenzie King read of the cabled request in Toronto newspapers, while absent from Ottawa.

During the war, Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and Prime Minister Smuts of South Africa had established the position that as the Dominions had made such a big contribution, they must be consulted in decisions about foreign affairs in which they would be involved.  So Prime Minister Mackenzie King replied that he could not commit Canada without the approval of Parliament.

Fortunately it all blew over without Britain’s or Canada’s going to war.  A peace conference settled the situation in the Middle East.  The importance of the “Chanak Crisis” was that Prime Minister King established Canadian relations with Britain on an orderly basis.


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