Tag Archives: St. Lawrence

Smart Deception Saves Montreal

Battle of the Chateauguay

Battle of the Chateauguay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It seems strange that films showing cowboys fighting Indians should be so popular on North American television.  Perhaps cowboys fared better than soldiers in the Indian wars, but certainly the Canadian Indians terrified American troops during the War of 1812.

A great French-Canadian military leader, Colonel Charles de Salaberry, probably saved Montreal from being captured in 1813 by using the Indians to scare off a strong American force.  While General Wilkinson was moving 8,000 American soldiers down the St. Lawrence  towards Montreal, General Wade Hampton was preparing to attack from Lake Champlain, with 4,000 regular infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and 10 guns.  After two days of heavy going through woods and marshes, his troops came to the Chateauguay stream in Canadian territory.

The British knew of the American plan and had sent de Salaberry to Chateauguay with four companies of his own Voltigeurs, (French militia, originally created by Napoleon I), Canadian Militia and 170 Indians.  De Salaberry established a strong defensive position, where the only road through the woods, led to a ford across the river.

The attack began on October 25 and continued through the following day.  Colonel de Salaberry  had his Voltigeurs defending an advance position and the ford.  At the same time he sent a company of militia, some Indians, and all his buglers into the woods across the river.   As de Salaberry expected, the Americans made a frontal attack on the forward position, while sending another force to try to take the ford.  They ran into strong opposition from the Voltigeurs in their defensive positions, who were deadly shots with their muskets.

Then the sound of bugles and the war cries of the Indians were heard, giving the impression that a military force was coming from Montreal.  The Americans were in such a state of panic that they began firing at each other!  General Hampton ordered them to withdraw, spent three days considering what his next move should be, and then decided to retreat.  Four thousand American soldiers had been turned back by 400 French-Canadians and their Indian allies.

When General Wilkinson heard that General Hampton had withdrawn, he also decided to give up.  Montreal had been saved.

Do you still want to read more about today’s post?  I can suggest a few sites to get you started.  There’s the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and the Royal Canadian Mint, and then the CBC’s Canada: a People’s History. And lastly I highly recommend you stop by the Government of Canada’s Heroes of the War of 1812.



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World’s Longest Skating Rink!

English: Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada, Janua...

English: Rideau Canal in Ottawa, Canada, January 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Rideau Canal between the Ottawa River and Lake Ontario is now used only by pleasure boats.  The lift from the Ottawa River to the canal is through a series of picturesque locks between the Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier Hotel.  The first stone of one of the locks was laid by Sir John Franklin, the famous explorer.

The project that eventually led to the building of the Rideau Canal began on September 29, 1783, immediately after the end of the American Revolutionary War.  British military leaders wanted a route from the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario that would not be exposed to the American border.  Lieutenants Jones and French were assigned to survey what was ten wild territory and reported that a canal was possible by using the Rideau River and a chain of lakes.

Nothing was done until after the War of 1812, when the building of the canal again became an issue.  In 1824, Upper Canada became impatient with the delay and had another survey made by Samuel Clewes.  The British Government offered to lend upper Canada £70,000 to build the canal, but Upper Canada would not go through with it.  In 1826, the British Government sent Colonel John By to build the canal.  he built the eight locks up the steep cliff from the Ottawa River and reserved the land on either side for military purposes.

By coincidence, the opening ceremonies for the building of the canal in 1827 were on the same date that Jones and French began their survey, September 29.  People came from near and far, on foot, in canoes and by ox-teams.  It was an Indian summer: the forests were rich in colour, with scarlet maples and golden birches.  During the opening ceremony, where Governor Dalhousie turned the first sod, frogs in nearby marshes provided their “musical” accompaniment.  The first steamer, Rideau, made the journey from Kingston to Bytown in 1832.  The route was busy until nearly 1900 when railways made it unnecessary.

However, it becomes the “World’s Longest Skating Rink” in the winter!

The Rideau Canal is amazing, as is its beginning.  To learn more about it, I suggest going to the Rideau Canal World Heritage site, the Bytown Museum, the Canadian Encyclopedia, the Parks Canada. If you would like to take a holiday in Ottawa, then I would suggest clicking your way to Ottawa Tourism!


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Love Can Be Blind

Nelson wounded during the battle of Santa Cruz...

Nelson wounded during the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife; 1806 painting by Richard Westall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Prince William, later King William IV, visited Canada as a frigate captain and like many sailors in those days, had a girl in every port.  One of his friends, and fellow-captain of a frigate, was Horatio Nelson.  He had a girl in one Canadian port, Quebec, and there is a romantic but sad story about them.

During the summer of 1782, Nelson was attacking American privateers along the coasts of Nova Scotia and Cape Cod.  His crew began to suffer from scurvy, so Nelson took his ship Albermarle to Quebec for a refit in September.  This is one of the most delightful months of the year along the St. Lawrence, with the maple leaves changing to red and gold, and Nelson was enchanted.  He referred to “fair Canada” in letters home.

Nelson was in Quebec for most of September and fell in love with Mary Simpson, the daughter of the provost-marshal of the garrison.  She was only sixteen years old, but Nelson was determined to marry her.  Prince William had predicted earlier that Nelson was going to do great things, even though he was probably the youngest captain in the Royal Navy.  Nelson’s Quebec friends agreed, and felt that marriage to an obscure Canadian girl would hurt his career.  They tried to talk him out of it and there were some tempestuous scenes.  There is even a story, unverified, that Nelson had to be tricked into sailing from Quebec.

It was mid-October before he left.  He never returned to Canada, or Mary Simpson, again.  Peace talks had already begun, and the British evacuated New York in May 1783.  The war against the United States ended in September, but Britain was also fighting France, Spain, and Holland so there was plenty of action to occupy Horatio Nelson.

“To leave off action”? Well, damn me if I do! You know, Foley, I have only one eye,— I have a right to be blind sometimes . . . I really do not see the signal!” – At the battle of Copenhagen, Ignoring Admiral Parker’s signal to retreat, holding his telescope up to his blind eye, and proceeding to victory against the Danish fleet. (2 April 1801).

The above quote by Nelson was accessed at Wiki Quote – an incredible archives of quotes from just about anyone of note!

To learn more about Horatio Nelson and today’s post, I would suggest visiting the BBC History, and the Royal Navy National Museum. As a wonderful treat I just found, you may enjoy videos from Manitime GB on You Tube.


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Their Hands Froze To Their Shovels

Montcalm leading his troops at Quebec.

Montcalm leading his troops at Quebec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Wolfe won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham on September 13, 1759, the city was not occupied until September 19.  Wolfe had died on the field of battle, but Montcalm, fatally wounded but still mounted on his black horse, was brought back into Quebec supported by two men.

Before dying, he had time to send a message to General Townsend asking him to be kind to the French sick and wounded, and to carry out an agreement for an exchange of prisoners.  His body was placed in a crude wooden box and buried in a convent.  A British shell had come through the roof and blasted a hole in the ground large enough to make a grave. Wolfe’s death may have been due to the fact that he wore a new uniform, against the advice of his officers.  He was a marked man when he led the Louisburg Grenadiers in the attack.   Wolfe was wounded in the wrist and groin before the fatal bullet pierced his lungs.

By the middle of October it was time for the ships to sail for Britain or be frozen in the St. Lawrence for the winter.  Admiral Saunders sailed, taking Townsend with him and leaving General Murray in charge.  Murray was Governor of Canada until 1766, when he was recalled, although he continued to be paid as governor for eight years after that date.

The first winter in Quebec was miserable because the city had been so badly damaged by nearly ten weeks of bombardment.  Food and fuel were scarce.  Murray had nearly 7,000 troops to look after, as well as 4,000 citizens who  chose to stay in Quebec and take the oath of allegiance.  Murray was very strict with his troops.  Any soldier found guilty of robbing a French citizen was hanged.  Officers were instructed to lift their hats when a religious procession went by.  If they did not want to do that, they had to get out of sight until the procession passed.

Actually, the British soldiers got on well with the French and worked with them in the fields, helping to bring in the harvest.  They were not equipped for winter, however.  Their hands froze to the shovels when they had to go into the forests to get wood for fuel.  There was so much sickness that Murray’s forces had been reduced to half by the middle of winter.

To learn more about today’s post, I suggest visiting British Battles, and the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, as well as the Canada Free Press.


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Which Circus is in Town?

Delegates of the Charlottetown Conference on t...

Delegates of the Charlottetown Conference on the steps of Government House, September 1864. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Negotiations for the Confederation of the British North American colonies really got under way in 1864.  Canada‘s cradle was the Charlottetown Conference that began on September 1, and rocked to the sound of circus music!

Delegates from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia arrived at Charlottetown on August 31.  Their original purpose had been to meet with representatives of Prince Edward Island to discuss the possibility of forming a maritime union.  Newfoundland was not represented.  The Canadians asked for permission to attend the conference so that they could present a plan to join the Maritimes in a federal union, or Confederation.

When Premiers Tilley of New Brunswick and Tupper of Nova Scotia arrived at Charlottetown with their delegations, there was little room for them in the inns.  The islanders had flocked to Charlottetown to watch their first circus in twenty years.  Even the cabinet ministers were there, and the only official available to greet them was William Pope, Colonial Secretary.  He managed to find accommodation for them at the Mansion House Hotel, one of twenty inns in Charlottetown.  Then they went to the circus!

The Canadians, led by Macdonald, Cartier, Brown, Galt and McGee, sailed from Quebec on August 29.   They had a fine trip down the St. Lawrence, although they were awed by Brown’s habit of getting up early in the morning for a cold salt-water bath, and then having a brisk walk around the decks of the Queen Victoria.  They reached Charlottetown early in the morning of September 1, and once again only faithful William Pope was on hand.  He went out to the Queen Victoria in a small boat rowed by a fisherman.  Pope was sitting on an oyster barrel and when they drew alongside the chief steward asked them about the price of oysters!

The conference was held in the Council Chamber of Province House, and the scene has been preserved, with the actual tables and chairs used by the delegates still in place.  It began on the afternoon of September 1, and the visiting Canadians were invited to speak first.  Macdonald and Cartier outlined their plans during the first two days, and the meetings continued until September 7.  Then the conference adjourned to meet at Halifax three days later.

To learn more about the Charlottetown Conference, there are a few sites I recommend: There’s the Library and Archives Canada, and the Britannica Encyclopedia, as well as the Prince Edward Island 2014 (preparing for their 150th anniversary). All good places to start your journey.


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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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The Magnificent Fiasco!

Boreal forest on Anticosti Island

Boreal forest on Anticosti Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Britain might have captured Canada from France in 1711 instead of 1763 if it had not been for the amazing foul-up of an expedition under Sir Hovenden Walker.  The leadership of the strongest military force that had ever sailed from Britain was incredible.  Sir Hovenden Walker was an Admiral of the Royal Navy, but there is no record of how he obtained that rank.  His second-in-command was General Jack Hill, who would be called a playboy today.  He was appointed because his sister, Abigail Hill, was Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber.

The Walker-Hill expedition totalled 9 warships, more than 60 transports, and 12,000 troops, many of whom were highly trained soldiers who had fought under Marlborough.  It looked as though the final hour had come for France in North America.

The fleet sailed from Nantucket on July 30, 1711.  One of the British ships captured a French ship in the St. Lawrence.  Its captain was a French officer, Paradis, who knew the river well and accepted a bribe to pilot the fleet up the St. Lawrence.  On August 22, while near Anticosti Island, Admiral Walker believed they were sailing near the south shore.  Although the captain of the flagship reported that land had been sighted (the river is 112 km (70 miles) wide at that point), Walker’s argument persisted; they were near the south shore.  He ordered the fleet to stop for the night, with bows pointing north.  Then he went to bed.

Before he fell asleep, an officer came into his cabin and reported that there were breakers on all sides.  Walker ordered him out.  Soon the officer returned and urged the Admiral to look for himself.  Walker appeared in  dressing gown and slippers, and called the pilot Paradis.  It was soon established that the fleet was off the north shore, in treacherous water near Sept-Iles.  The warships were saved, but 10 transport and service ships were wrecked.  About 500 men were rescued, but after a conference with General Hill, Walker decided to return to Britain.  There were still 50 ships and 11,000 men available to fight!

Walker was dismissed from the service on half-pay, while General Hill went back to being a “man about town.”  The incident is known in Canadian history as “the magnificent fiasco.”


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