The hidden history of Canada's first battle
On June 1, 1866, over 1,000 Fenian insurgents invaded Canada across the Niagara River from Buffalo, N.Y. The Fenians, mostly battle-hardened Civil War veterans, were bent on driving the British out of Ireland by taking Canada hostage.
The Canadian troops sent to fight them came from a generation who had not seen combat at home for over thirty years and no major invasion of Canadian territory since the War of 1812—their grandfather's generation. Led by inexperienced upper-class amateur officers, the volunteer soldiers were mostly teenage boys and young men, some as young as fifteen years old: farm boys, shopkeepers, apprentices, schoolteachers, store clerks and two rifle companies of University of Toronto students hastily called out from their final exams. Under government cost-saving policies many had not practiced even once firing live rounds from the rifles issued to them.
When the next day they fought the Fenians near the village of Ridgeway, a single rifle company of twenty-eight students took the brunt of a counter-attack by eight hundred insurgents and suffered the most killed and wounded.
What happened at Ridgeway and in Fort Erie on June 2, 1866, was covered up by the Macdonald government and a decades-long political controversy. Its history was falsified so thoroughly that most Canadians today have never heard of Canada's first modern battle or of Canada's first military casualties.
Historian, investigative journalist and filmmaker Peter Vronsky uncovers the hidden history of the Battle of Ridgeway and its significance to Canada's nation-building myths and traditions.