Frontier in Flames – The Canadian children’s version of the Fenian Invasion of the Niagara Peninsula

The 1866 Fenian Raids are not as well known in the United States, despite having occurred by Irish American Civil War veterans on the US Border. It has been forgotten on our history books while our neighbors to the north, it is much better known for these Raids helped shape the Canadian Confederation in 1867 and changed the course of history as Great Britain gave up their stake to British North America.

11A children’s book: Frontier in Flames: The Fenian Invasion of Niagara Peninsula by James M Basset and illustrations by Les Callan, written in 1965 and published in Toronto. It centers around a Canadian boy befriending a young Fenian invader with the storyline set around the Raids. There are some interesting drawings, considering there is a lot of artist license to the facts, like the uniforms of the Fenians, but overall an entertaining book for children with some historic perspective.

While the Fenian Raids are overlooked in the United States, they continue to be a part of Canada’s rich history. Here are a few pages from the book.

A Look Back In 1897 of the Fenian Raids With Photos Of The Battlefield

1The “Canadian Magazine and Massey’s Magazine Combined” for November 1897, featured articles about the “Makers of the Dominion of Canada”. Several were about the Fenian Raids of June 1866, one written by John A. Cooper, the magazine editor, which focused on Ontario, Upper Canada, Campaign.

At the time of the article, in 1897, photos were taken of the battlefield and other points of interest. While the photograph quality in a magazine print is not the clearest, it gives some idea of what the area may have looked like to both sides, untouched with other parts now gone, 31 years after the Battle of Ridgeway and Fort Erie.

Some shots include the interior of Fort Erie, Dr Kempson’s House, camp sites of the Fenians and the site of General O’Neill’s Headquarters at Limeridge. The article also contained a few portraits and maps, which I only included for points of reference.

You can read the article here on Google Books.

https://books.google.com/books?id=mdLPtC3TZxAC&lpg=RA1-PR1&ots=Y45uvBwIjV&dq=%22Canadian%20Magazine%20and%20Massey’s%20Magazine%20Combined%22%20for%20November%201897&pg=PA41&output=embed

What Fort Erie looked like during the Fenian Raid of June 1866

During the Fenian Raids, Fort Erie had been in ruins and disrepair for some time. The capture of this fort was more symbolic than a strategic military point for the Fenians, and this point often gets lost on many readers of these accounts. Fort Erie certainly did not look as it appears today.

One Hackensack NJ newspaper reporting on the Fenian Raids at the time gave an interesting perspective for North Jersey readers to understand what Fort Erie would have looked like. The reporter compared it to “Fort Lee” in Bergen County, meaning it was not much of a fort, with defensive walls, at all.

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The ruins of Fort Erie as it appeared during the June 1866 Fenian Raid – Harper’s Weekly, June 23, 1866

 

“THE FENIANS ON THE WAR PATH – On Thursday night of last week, an armed body of Fenians crossed from Buffalo to a place called “Fort Erie” on the Canada side and captured it, with all it’s in habitants – of which there were none however. “Fort Erie”, it appears is about as much a “Fort” as our own Fort Lee. The place is named for the old Fort Erie of the War of 1812, which had been long dismantled and unoccupied. – The Bergen County Democrat and New Jersey State Register of Hackensack NJ of June 8th, 1866″

Major John C Canty – Death of a Fenian Leader

Major John C Canty, the Chief Intelligence Officer for the Fenian Brotherhood in 1866, is listed in several accounts as being killed during the Battle of Ridgeway. 

There is also some confusion as to whether he was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna in 1866 or lived on. O’Neill’s report even refers to Canty within his post action account of the Raid to the Brotherhood as “giving great assistance”, but there was no acknowledgement of Canty being a casualty. 

Furthermore, there are no newspaper accounts of Canty’s death or funeral for an officer of such high ranking in the local Buffalo newspapers after the battle, like there was for Captain Edward Lonergan or other Fenians, like Pvt Eugene Corcoran, who were casualties. 

Fenian Head Centre for Buffalo, Patrick O’Day, and the auctioneer who warehoused the weapons for the Fenian Raid, wrote in his January 4, 1868 newspaper, the Fenian Volunteer, mentioning Canty had moved to the West:

“Col John Canty – It affords as the most sincere gratification to learn that the above popular gentleman and starling Irish patriot is located pleasantly and with flattering prospects in the fair city of San Francisco, California. Those who know Col Canty well will be the most gratified to hear thus of his welfare, while the citizens of San Francesco may rest assured that they will find in him a man of honor and well worth in every relation.”

A series of Buffalo City city directories, continue to establish John C Canty living in that city before and after 1866, until 1879, working as a tailor. One can only surmise, being a  tailor by trade, accounts of Canty being an employee of Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway was just a temporary cover for a Fenian spy who lived briefly in Canada scouting out the area for military operations before the Raid. 

By 1880, records indicate he moved permanently to San Francisco, California, still working as a tailor, then relocated to Oakland in 1889. Canty may have been returning to Buffalo while he maintained residences in both Buffalo and San Francisco but that is highly unlikely. California city directories nor newspapers during this time, do not pick up his arrival or living in the West, however Buffalo city directories still list him throughout those years. It would be quite a distance to travel back and forth, coast to coast, as well as costly or perhaps the Fenian Volunteer newspaper announcement was a rouse by the Fenian Intelligence Officer to put English Authorities off his track, who he believed were still hunting him, as his obituary alludes.

Major Canty’s obituary did appeared in several local west coast newspapers in March 1896 headlined “Death Of A Fenian Leader” and the obit was then picked up throughout the rest of country with similar descriptions of having died in Oakland, California, attributing his involvement with the Fenian Raid into Canada, with an inaccurate year of the Raid, but close. 

Being on the run from detectives in the English Government may perhaps be a bit exaggerated, but Patrick O’Day 1868 Fenian Volunteer article could provide that explaination. In the least it’s more proof that Canty lived on after the 1866 Raid into Canada West. 

The early demise of The Chief Intelligence Officer for the Fenian Brotherhood after the Battle of Ridgeway in June 1866 is clearly inaccurate. His final resting place, is verified by newspaper accounts, historical and genealogical research as well as the California Medical Examiners death certificate, which noted is final resting place and can be found here on the burial website of Find A Grave. 

https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSvcid=547862&GRid=88731570

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