“The soldiers of the Queen.”
Mention has been made of the Trent Affair and its effect on the growing town of Bruce Mines.
In 1866, only two years later, the shore for many miles down the river was in a state of intense excitement owing to the report of a probable invasion from the south.
A large number of Irish agitators who had made their headquarters in the United States, had formed themselves into militant bodies and were allowed to drill in various towns and cities of that country without interference from the authorities.
Their aim and object was the invasion of Canada with the idea of wresting it from British sovereignty and they wrought in the hope that the majority of Canadians were ready and anxious to take up arms against the Motherland on the slightest encouragement.
When the time seemed to be ripe a body of these Fenians crossed the frontier under a certain ” General ” O’Neil and were met by the volunteers at Ridgeway, in Old Ontario,. and not receiving the aid they had looked for they fell back again, leaving some of their number dead and many prisoners.
In the meantime word reached Sault Sainte Marie that 400 Fenians were mobilizing at Marquette in the State of Michigan and the officials in the American Sault intimated that they would give the warning of any nearer approach.
Under Captain Wilsonas his title was thenwith Lieutenant Prince and Ensign Towers, a company of volunteers, fifty-two strong, was called out on June 6th and placed under arms, taking up a position on the river beach in Marchbank, the old Wilson residence on the north west corner of Bay and March streets, and for thirteen long days anxious watch was kept for fear of surprise.
During the first two days of the guard the town was repeatedly startled by the booming of cannon, and it was found that Americans who were working at Pointe aux Pins, and who had come from Detroit, were discharging a field piece from time to time in order to create a sensation.
On June 8th, Captain Wilson despatched a squad of men under Mr. Brown, who was the Customs officer. They seized the gun and brought it to Sault Sainte Marie. Repeated alarms were experienced, as on the night of June 9th, when an attempt was made to shoot from the river the sentry on duty, his shako being torn by the bullet which passed through the cap and carried away the button on the back. The night was intensely dark and the would-be murderers escaped.
On the 15th there was another alarm which brought Colonel Prince with his duck gun and Mr. Wymess Simpson with his shotgun, hurrying along to the company’s headquarters in the hope of getting a shot at the Fenians, but nothing came of it and the inhabitants retired again to their houses.
One incident of the affair will quite bear relating. Captain Wilson did not believe in men being idle and the volunteers were set to work to straighten up the barracks wherein they were housed. Some years previous Father Kohler had req tested of the Captain permission to store a small keg of wine on the premises that it might be near at hand when he came to the Sault for service, but the poor priest had long since departed and the existence of the keg was completely forgotten. In the course of cleaning up, however, it was discovered and as the easiest way to learn the nature of a keg’s contents seemed to the men to be to sample them, they proceeded to do so with the result -that, on the return of the Commandant, he found a number of his warriors placed hors de combat, but not by Fenian bullets. On the 19th of June the trouble was over and the company was disbanded and uniforms once more laid aside.
At the same time, as the company was under arms at Sault Sainte Marie, Captain Plummer and Captain Bennetts with their Lieutenants, W. H. Plummer, our present Mayor (1903) and Mr. Biggings, Clerk of the Court (1903) guarded the mines at the Bruce with their two companies, numbering in all about 200 men, but their duty, like that of the men of the Sault, was no more than that of patrolling the beach and the roads.
The following year saw the union of the provinces into the Dominion and July 1st took its place as the most important day in the history of Canada as a growing nation, On August 6th, 1867, Colonel Fred. Cumberland arrived to begin electioneering, and on the 13th of September he and Mr. Simpson were returned by the electors as their representatives in Parliament.
On the 7th of October the little militia company was once more placed under arms to be inspected by Colonel Durie, who at one time commanded the Queen’s Own Rifles of Toronto, and Frenchmen and Englishmen, brought up with different traditions, but one and all staunch Britishers, were found by him in the unique volunteer corps.
In December of the year of the Fenian excitement, there had arrived in the Sault a young fellow who started a saw mill, much to the delight of the people, but 1869, his money gone and the mill inoperative, poor T…. went mad and his wife became afflicted in the same terrible way.
For many days did the people watched over them with deep solicitude and long meetings of the hamlet’s fathers were held as to the best course to pursue. The unfortunate ones were finally carried away by relatives and the people settled again into their quiet rut.
It was in this year that the Chicora first became known at the Sault.
During the American war a blockade-runner, owned by the Confederacy, proved wonderfully adventurous and successful, and after the peace the vessel was taken into dry dock and made into two sea-faring crafts.
One of these became known as the Southern Belle and the other as the Chicora, which latter is still in commission, plying daily during the season between Toronto and Queenston on Lake Ontario.
On March 8th, of the following year, 1870, the Postmaster David Pim died. He could lay claim with perfect right to having been the first settler, other than government officials, to come to Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario, since the war of 1812-14, and together with his wife succeeded in winning the good-will and friendship of all with whom he came in contact.
His widow, the Postmistress, is still amongst us, and with her family occupies the old home which was mentioned in a former chapter as having been the first church. Mr. Charles Pim, a son, now fills the office of Town Clerk, and may he live to occupy the position for many years.
In Mr. Pim’s day the arrival of the mail was a great event and already has the excitement occasioned by the advent of the mail courier been dwelt upon.
At one time the people of the Sault thought to expedite matters by having their letters and papers sent by way of Detroit and so render it impossible for one to write in his diary such a legend as ” mail three months late,” or, “Couriers arrived without mail from Penetang, no letters for Christmas.”
For a short while, after this change, all went well, then the mail ceased altogether, and after some weeks had elapsed a search party was formed which, after a hunt, found the mail bags twenty in number suspended from the limbs of the trees, near Detour. The American mail carriers had became tired of their undertaking and had left their burden in the wilderness. After that the town reverted to the old fashioned way on the ground that it is better to get one’s letters late than not to get them at all.
There is still one of the couriers left in Sault Sainte Marie, hale and strong. He is Louis Miron and Louis delights to tell in his honest way the adventures which befell him on the line of travel.
Louis lives in a quaint frame house with his family about him, and on one occasion saluted me when I called on him, with a hearty :
” Come in seet down, nice day today outside. I haf not see you much round Pere -some time now.
” Yes ! I been ‘way myself, up Michipicoten. ” I go wit’ explorer. Dat’ my work now. ” Wat you ask ?
” De storee of de time when Savers and me were de mail coureurs ? Why dat’s noting, I tell you all I remember.
“‘We used to carry mail to Killarney in dos day and it was cold, I tell you, some time I thought I freeze but here I am to tell you ’bout it today. Yes, Pere, der were tree mail each month den. We git here on the 1st and the 11th and the 21st of each month and we haf hard work to do it sometam.
” Cold! der are no winter now !
” I think 40 degres below zero was de reg’lar ting den. We went by Missisaqua to La Cloch’ den cross de lac to Manitawaning den back to the mainlan’ at Killarney.
” How we make it ? Dog and snowshoetwo hunder mile, yes, by gar ! we wear oud de racquet each trip but we carry ‘noder pair to bring us home.
” In de winter we pack de mail bag on a dog sleigh and follow de rivere down when we could and sometam we haf to tak to de wood and den it was hard. De dogs pull fast and de snow she clog de snowshoe ver’ much, and when night come and de stars shine out we was perty glad to strike some Indian party camp on de shore and haf our supper wid dem. Indian ? Why, yes, all ‘long de shore was Indian, de wigwam could be seen purt’ near any place, an dey no longer wicked. We eat an sleep with dem and in de mornin go long again.
” How far we go ? o ’bout 35, 4o mile, sometimes a man would go 6o mile in a day. Yes, you no think dat ? but we used to dat : we not think much of long tramps dos days.
” I start in 1856 and mak five trip dat winter. I tol you we go tree time each month. Dat was when de traval was good.
“Sometam it tak tree day from Mississigua to La Cloch. Haf you heard why dey call him La Cloch ? Dey tol me when I go down long tam ago dat some rocks back der haf so much metal in dem dat when you strike them dey soun just like de bell at Quebec, and so dey say the place is La Cloch. You are priest like our priest ? Yes, den I guess I make you understand ! I think when de Bon Dieu he haf no church den he mak dat rock lik church bell so we not forget. You see ! Great thing, Pere, not to forget, eh !
” Will we reach Killarney an der we meet de coureur from Penetanguishene. Sometam dey not come ; den we leave the mail and come back without a load. Sometam we try to get to Penetang before the other coureur arrive, so dat we come back widout any mail ; that mean without any load. What you say in English, Tricks in all trade but ours !’ ha, ha….
” But, oh ! sometam den I wish I was dead. Now I sit by the fire and think an it all seem lak fun in dose days, but then all de fun was squeeze out and we only haf the real ting.
” I remember one day we leave Killarney early in de mornin, de day was fine an de sun she high above in de heaven. Everybody was happy but me, and I was thinkin of de ice. How she stan us ? we haf no dogs wid us Only my uncle an me was togeder. Well we start out early ‘cross de lak and work our way ‘long and ever-where we strike de pool, but I not think much of dat till ’bout five mile out I was busy thinkin of somethin else and forget altogeder I was on de lak I heard someding crack Den, I tell you, I not forget no more, but we both jump at de same tam, and when my uncle he come down again he go clean thro’.
” What I do ? No courir, he not ready for dat. We haf de long pole an I run dat pole and to him and he grab it, and little by little he work his way on to de solid ice. We no say a word, we just work, an when he get out he tak de sleigh an’ start for de town as fas’ as he can go. Dat kep’ him from freezin, and when I get der too, he was all right.
” Did I ever tell you, Pere, how we brought John Egan up to Sault Ste. Marie ?
” Joe Sayer and me were carryin de mail at dat tam, and when we arrive at Killarney, John’s fader he say to me, says he, Louis, my boy he want to go to de Sault, will you take him thro’
” I think for one little minut, an den I say,. You see my pardner, Mr. Egan, and if he say oui, den I say oui, too.’
” Just den Joe he come in and John’s fader he say to him, Can John go wid you and Louis to de Sault ?’ an Joe he ask, what do Louis say ?’ an when he hear I am willin,’ he say, all right,’ says I and nex mornin’ we start for home De day was clear and de sun he shine high up but he give no heat at all. I think we be going to have a hard tam to get home, Joe, I says, but Joe he just push ahead an me an Egan we come behind. My, it was de cold traverse, and John Egan he not much good on de snowshoe, and many time we haf to camp to let him hay a rest, when we want to get on, but I say I would not leave him, and I mean what I say. Well, we push on an on as best we can and Joe he was gettin madder an madder ever’ day until when we were ’bout thirty mile from de Sault John he got behin altogeder.
” At first we did not miss him, but pull away at our sleigh wid our head down, and den I say to Joe, By gar, where John ?’
Then Joe he growl at me an say, I doan know, leaf him he Louis, and come on or we be frozen too.’ We were crossing the lak den and der had been a heavy thaw, and altho’ it was now 40 degre below zero, yet under the snow the water was still unfroz’ and ever’ tam you plant your snowshoe it go ‘way down and you see de slush underneath. Well, I turned an go back, and wad you tink I foun ? Why dat faller John when he couldn’t kep up wid us had just taken off his snowshoes to run and of course ever’ step he took he went down deep into de slush an den he freeze, mon Dieu !
His feet were froze, his hand were froze, his face wus hard, he was all froze I when I find him, and so I took him back to de islan’ we wast just pass and light a big fire of pine an cedar and mak de big cup of tea and try to thaw him oud again.
” Wad you think, Pere, I haf hard tam, and dat Joe he went right on an would not help, an after John was thaw out we start again, but ever’ little while I haf to stop an rub his hans an cheeks. I never forget dat last thirty mile pull, but at last we get to the Saut.
” Der was Joe in de pos’ office. He haf tol de people we were perish in de water an dey were gettin ready to go an bring us in when we arrive.
” Den dey all shout and come ’bout us an shake us by de han an help pull off our frozen tings and get us warm, some more. Poor John he not haf wee much life in him until he see Joe, den, by gar, he forget he is sick. Dey haf to hol’ him back an he cry, ‘ Joe, you can dank your stars I haf not a pistol wit me now or I would teach you to have frozen men thirty mile from a house.’
The same year that witnessed the death of Mr. Pim saw the outbreak of the first Riel rebellion. Sault Sainte Marie was the point of debarkation of Colonel Wolsley and his troops since the Michigan authorities refused the use of the canal to our soldiers. Vessels were brought down to the Portage at the old Hudson’s Bay Fort, and the stores were carried from Phipps’ wharf, which was begun by David Pim, and is now replaced by the Government Dock, to the wharf at the Portage and then placed on board the transports:
Mrs. Pim’s house, on Pim street, was made headquarter’s office by Colonel Wolsley who had on his staff at that time Captain Buller, now Lord Buller who served recently in the South African war, and Lieutenant Hewish who was killed in action in Egypt.
A number of voyageurs were engaged at the Sault and accompanied the expedition.
Mr. T. A. P. Towers, one. of our well known citizens, was also attached to the staff of the Commandant, and recently received from England a D. S. medal for his office at that time.
In the accompanying letter does the Field Marshal thus speak of the campaign :
” That you also had much to do with the expedition which went with me to Fort Garry in 187o. I hope you retain as pleasant a recollection of that undertaking as I do.
” I shall never forget the energy which the two militia battalions representing the two great provinces of Quebec and Ontario displayed during that undertaking. I wish all the battalions at the present moment in the King’s Army were composed of as fine men.
Believe me to be,
Very truly yours,
Much questioning has been indulged in with regard to the several cannon which still lie in the water at the foot of the Government dock. Joachim Biron relates that the guns were originally at the North West Post, and on the coming of the Americans during the war of 1812-15 they were placed in a bateau for conveyance to Mackinac, but the hostile fleet being sighted, they were cast overboard at the point where they now lay.
At St. Joseph’s Island is to be seen another battery of guns lying under the water and which it is supposed was abandoned about the same time as were those at the Sault.