It's Colonel By Day in Ottawa -- Governor Simcoe Day elsewhere in Ontario -- and it's my favourite holiday of the year: one that has no agenda or pressures, a holiday made for relaxing. A day for bicycling down to the Ottawa locks and join the commemoration of the building of the Rideau Canal.
That, and renew my acquaintance with the good folks who keep alive the memory of the 100th Regiment of Foot.
Known as the Prince Regent's County of Dublin Regiment, it was raised in Ireland in 1804 and shipped off to Nova Scotia the following year. By 1807, they were serving under General Brock in Quebec City, and when the War of 1812 came, they saw early service in the Battle of Sackett's Harbour.
However, in the winter of 1813-14, they were transferred to the Niagara front, where much of the heavy fighting took place. They arrived in time to take part in the night-time attack on Fort Niagara, and were part of the advance on the American side of the Niagara that led to the burning of Buffalo in retaliation for the burning of Niagara-on-the-Lake ("Newark" in the Jake and Eli stories.) They saw heavy fighting and took big losses at the Battle of Chippewa and took part in the Siege of Fort Erie.
During the Niagara fighting, they likely encountered the Canadian Volunteers -- another regiments whose memory is being kept alive by a dedicated group of re-enactors.
Among the members of the 100th Regiment of Foot are Mark McCrady and Richard Beaudoin. Mark teaches middle grade students in Sydenham, Ontario. Each October 13 he brings history alive for them by re-staging the Battle of Queenston Heights, complete with amphibious assault, attack on the redan, death of General Brock (yes, his students get to "shoot" him with tennis balls as weapons, and General Sheaffe's march around the American flank. The kids love it! And I'd love to go out and report it for this blog one of these days!
In the Ottawa Valley, the 100th Regiment of Foot is best known for the founding of the town of Richmond, Ontario. After the war, rather than return to Ireland, many officers and men chose instead to take land grants offered by a grateful British government -- grateful for their service in the war, and grateful that hundreds of unemployed soldiers would not be returning to the Old Country.
For Colonel By Day, the regiment is called upon to serve as the honour guard for the ceremonies held each year to honour the memory of the Irish workers killed and injured while building the Rideau Canal from 1826 to 1832.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the canal is one of the engineering marvels of the early 19th century. As several speakers at the ceremony mentioned, on a pleasant sunny afternoon with the pleasure boats making their way up and down the locks on their way to and from the Ottawa River, it is difficult for us to conceive the hardship and danger of blasting, digging and stone-masoning this canal out of the rock, forest and muskeg of Upper Canada. Hundreds of navvies lost their lives to fever, explosions, and other workplace accidents.
The ceremony began with the singing of the national anthems of both Ireland and Canada. Speakers included representatives from Parks Canada, the Bytown Museum, the labour movement, from the committee who had undertaken to establish the Celtic cross to commemorate the lost workers, and from His Excellency, the Irish Ambassador. And a seanachie who addressed the audience in Irish and English.
And with the plaque is unveiled.
The ceremonies done, the soldiers of the Dublin County Regiment returned to get rehydrated and catch a bit of rest.
Some needed more rest than others, but they say that an essential skill of a soldier is to be able to catch some sleep under any circumstance.
Then it was back to work, defending Upper Canada from its enemies.
To contact the 100th Regiment of Foot, check out their website: http://www.recreated.100thregiment.org/