Posts Tagged ‘Thorold’

On the 30th of October 1921, the Mayor of the small Ontario town of Thorold in Welland County was unveiling a cenotaph in the new Memorial Park to honour the young men of the town who had died in the Great War. According to historian Alun Hughes, ‘the Mayor was barely able to speak, since his two sons… were among the 54 names of fallen soldiers listed’.

Thorold Cenotaph

Thorold Cenotaph

The Mayor was called Grisdale, to be precise Frederick Gideon Grisdale; his family had been living in Welland County for about a hundred years. Frederick’s Grandfather Gideon had helped build the first Welland Canal and then been one of its lock keepers. His father Robert John Grisdale had won a medal for fighting the Fenian Raiders in 1861. But now Frederick was ‘barely able to speak’ as he saw the names of his sons, Arthur and Lionel, carved in stone in front of him.

Both Arthur and Lionel had been carpenters when they joined up within a few weeks of each other in late 1915. Arthur, aged 21, joined the Canadian Field Artillery, while Lionel, aged 18, enlisted in the Canadian Mounted Rifles; he would later transfer to the 1st Hussars, Canadian Light Horse.

At the start of August 1918, the Canadian army in France was participating in the Battle of Amiens.

‘The Battle of Amiens (8 – 28 August, 1918) would see the start of a string of successes for the allies that would leave the German Army a shadow of its once mighty self. To spearhead the upcoming attack, the strongest and freshest formations were called upon to spearhead the attack and so the Canadian and Australian Corps moved up to the front at Amiens. The Canadians deployed with three divisions forwards… Each division had attached to it a battalion of 42 British tanks. Also deployed was the Cavalry Corps to exploit the expected breakthrough.’

Lionel Grisdale was with these divisions. He was a Trooper with the 1st Hussars, Canadian Light horse, and part of the ‘Cavalry Corps’.

Canadian Light Horse, 1918

Canadian Light Horse, 1918

Lieutenant George Stirrett was a troop commander in the 1st Hussars. He wrote a detailed account of the activities of the Canadian Light Horse throughout the war. When we get to the summer of 1918 he tells us:

At the end of July, 1918, in preparation for the Battle of Amiens, the Canadian Light Horse was ordered to move by night to Saleux, south of Amiens. Here we were broken up and a squadron attached to each of the attacking brigades. LCol Leonard took command of the Hotchkiss Gun Detachment (18 guns) which worked along the Amiens – Roye Road and helped maintain liaison with the French on the right.

During the early part of August I was attached, with my troop, to the Canadian Third Divisional Headquarters. As the attack should be on August 8th, the Brigade Major came to me and said that the first thing they had to do was to get over a small creek about ten feet wide. There were three bridges in the Third Division sector. Our job was to determine as soon as possible after the attack started, whether or not these bridges had been destroyed. As soon as this was determined, my troop would have to deliver messages to the advancing elements of Third Division. That was right at dawn.

By 9:00 A.M., the brigade Major came to me and said, ‘Stirrett, we’ve got so far that they have passed their objectives. Now we have lost our troops and haven’t any communication with them.’ He said that I was to take all the men I had and send them out. They were to try and contact anyone from the Third Division and bring back a message telling where they were and what they were doing. There being not yet any radios and the signals had not yet had time to get out their signal wire. We spent the rest of the day trying to contact advancing elements…

The next day, August 9th, Skirrett tells us:

We got a report that a German artillery unit had disappeared into a hollow about a mile away. A squadron of the Scots Greys was in the area and was asked if they wanted to go after these Germans, who were to the right, on the French side of the road. The Scots officer said that he could not go. Lieutenant Freddy Taylor, a First Hussars Officer, and a bit tight at the time, commanding the 1st troop, took five men and headed out towards where the Germans had been seen…

Germans at Amiens

Germans at Amiens

Trooper Grisdale was one of these five men who headed out with the ‘tight’ Lieutenant Taylor.

They found the Germans about 2000 yards ahead of the advancing French infantry. It was a German artillery ammunition column, hidden in an excavation, and their horses had nose bags on as they were on a rest stop. One man held the horses while Taylor and the others moved forward with their rifles to the edge of the bank. From there, they were able to shoot every horse and a few men so that the German column couldn’t move. Then Taylor said every man for himself, and to get back the best way you can. They went back, losing one man while two were wounded.

I’ll come back to Skirrett’s account soon, but let’s continue with the account of these events written by James McWilliams in his book Amiens: Dawn of Victory:

“On the extreme right flank where the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles advanced along the Amiens – Roye Road there occurred an incident, insignificant strategically but typical in many ways of the events of Friday, August 9. The 5th had by-passed Arvillers, a town to their right in the French sector, and assisted by four tanks had pressed on to take their own objective, Bouchoir.”

“The French south of the road had been stopped in front of Arvillers despite the support of Brutinel’s Independent Force. Around 5:00 the men of the two motor machine gun batteries fought their way into Arvillers and captured twenty-five prisoners… The 5th CMRs, looking over their right shoulder and seeing groups of the enemy retreating from Arvillers in the French sector, dispatched a platoon and one tank to occupy and mop up the village at 5:30.”

At 5:40, in the words of the War Diary of the 5th CMR.

A considerable number of enemy vehicles (a German ammunition convoy, as it turned out) were noticed retiring South eastwards from Southern outskirts of Arvillers. This was pointed out to a squadron of Imperial Cavalry who had just moved up in close proximity to our H.Q., and we suggested that they could with very little difficulty, make a good capture, but they were either unable or unwilling to seize the opportunity.

The Wrecked Church of Arvillers

The Wrecked Church of Arvillers

“Instead, five volunteers from the Canadian Light Horse offered to tackle the ammunition convoy. Lieutenant F. A. Taylor and his men had been sent forward from Brigade Headquarters to deliver a message. Now Taylor, Sergeant Duncan, and Privates Dudgeon, Grisdale and Hastie mounted and galloped to a line of old trenches south of the road. There they dismounted and worked their way along the trenches.”

Here we can hear what Lieutenant Freddy Taylor himself wrote about what happened:

I decided to rush the convoy and left the trenches. Some resistance was offered so I opened fire and shot the officer and 12 or 15 men. The remainder, about 20 men, surrendered. Heavy rifle and M.G. fire was opened on us from the trenches so we seized the lead horses and rushed them toward our own lines. The enemy advanced some machine guns within 400 yards and as I realized there was no chance of getting the convoy clear, I shot some of the horses and rushed my prisoners into the trench… as a body of the enemy were advancing with the intention of cutting us off.

Canadian Troops at Amiens 1918

Canadian Troops at Amiens 1918

McWilliams continues:

Meanwhile another platoon of the 5th CMR and a tank had been dispatched to help the five Light Horsemen bring in the captured ammunition convoy. But while they were on their way the French put down a belated rolling barrage on Arvillers where the CMRs first platoon was mopping up with the aid of a tank. Both platoons and both tanks were hastily recalled. Taylor and his four men were split up and forced to abandon their prisoners. When they reached Canadian lines, two were missing – Hastie and Grisdale. It is believed that Grisdale stayed with his wounded comrade. That night a search was carried out and the body of Private Hastie was found having apparently died of wounds. There was no trace of Grisdale.

And thus it was that Trooper Lionel Grisdale died: staying behind to help a wounded comrade.

There is one final thing to add. There were several versions of these events, though not regarding Lionel’s death. Lieutenant Skirrett writes:

LCol Leonard asked me to determine exactly what had happened and to determine whether or not Taylor should get a decoration. After I turned in the full story, Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the surviving men… were awarded Military Medals (MM). When I had talked to the men involved, each had told a different story, as if they had not all been in the same place at the same time. They all said they had never seen anything so ridiculous or so foolish in the whole war. I conclude that I thought the whole action quote reckless.

Whether Lionel’s father Mayor Frederick Grisdale knew these scanty facts regarding his son’s death three years later when he unveiled the cenotaph in Thorold, I don’t know.

What about Frederick’s other and older son Arthur? As I mentioned, Arthur had joined the 8th Battalion of the Canadian Field Artillery as a Gunner. He died on the killing fields of the Somme, ‘near Courcelette’ on 4 November, 1916. Maybe I’ll tell his story later.

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On the 30th of October 1921, the Mayor of the small Ontario town of Thorold in Welland County was unveiling a cenotaph in the new Memorial Park to honour the young men of the town who had died in the Great War. According to historian Alun Hughes, ‘the Mayor was barely able to speak, since his two sons… were among the 54 names of fallen soldiers listed’.

Thorold Cenotaph

Thorold Cenotaph

The Mayor was called Grisdale, to be precise Frederick Gideon Grisdale; his family had been living in Welland County for about a hundred years. Frederick’s Grandfather Gideon had helped build the first Welland Canal and then been one of its lock keepers. His father Robert John Grisdale had won a medal for fighting the Fenian Raiders in 1861. But now Frederick was ‘barely able to speak’ as he saw the names of his sons, Arthur and Lionel, carved in stone in front of him.

Both Arthur and Lionel had been carpenters when they joined up within a few weeks of each other in late 1915. Arthur, aged 21, joined the Canadian Field Artillery, while Lionel, aged 18, enlisted in the Canadian Mounted Rifles; he would later transfer to the 1st Hussars, Canadian Light Horse.

At the start of August 1918, the Canadian army in France was participating in the Battle of Amiens.

‘The Battle of Amiens (8 – 28 August, 1918) would see the start of a string of successes for the allies that would leave the German Army a shadow of its once mighty self. To spearhead the upcoming attack, the strongest and freshest formations were called upon to spearhead the attack and so the Canadian and Australian Corps moved up to the front at Amiens. The Canadians deployed with three divisions forwards… Each division had attached to it a battalion of 42 British tanks. Also deployed was the Cavalry Corps to exploit the expected breakthrough.’

Lionel Grisdale was with these divisions. He was a Trooper with the 1st Hussars, Canadian Light horse, and part of the ‘Cavalry Corps’.

Canadian Light Horse, 1918

Canadian Light Horse, 1918

Lieutenant George Stirrett was a troop commander in the 1st Hussars. He wrote a detailed account of the activities of the Canadian Light Horse throughout the war. When we get to the summer of 1918 he tells us:

At the end of July, 1918, in preparation for the Battle of Amiens, the Canadian Light Horse was ordered to move by night to Saleux, south of Amiens. Here we were broken up and a squadron attached to each of the attacking brigades. LCol Leonard took command of the Hotchkiss Gun Detachment (18 guns) which worked along the Amiens – Roye Road and helped maintain liaison with the French on the right.

During the early part of August I was attached, with my troop, to the Canadian Third Divisional Headquarters. As the attack should be on August 8th, the Brigade Major came to me and said that the first thing they had to do was to get over a small creek about ten feet wide. There were three bridges in the Third Division sector. Our job was to determine as soon as possible after the attack started, whether or not these bridges had been destroyed. As soon as this was determined, my troop would have to deliver messages to the advancing elements of Third Division. That was right at dawn.

By 9:00 A.M., the brigade Major came to me and said, ‘Stirrett, we’ve got so far that they have passed their objectives. Now we have lost our troops and haven’t any communication with them.’ He said that I was to take all the men I had and send them out. They were to try and contact anyone from the Third Division and bring back a message telling where they were and what they were doing. There being not yet any radios and the signals had not yet had time to get out their signal wire. We spent the rest of the day trying to contact advancing elements…

The next day, August 9th, Skirrett tells us:

We got a report that a German artillery unit had disappeared into a hollow about a mile away. A squadron of the Scots Greys was in the area and was asked if they wanted to go after these Germans, who were to the right, on the French side of the road. The Scots officer said that he could not go. Lieutenant Freddy Taylor, a First Hussars Officer, and a bit tight at the time, commanding the 1st troop, took five men and headed out towards where the Germans had been seen…

Germans at Amiens

Germans at Amiens

Trooper Grisdale was one of these five men who headed out with the ‘tight’ Lieutenant Taylor.

They found the Germans about 2000 yards ahead of the advancing French infantry. It was a German artillery ammunition column, hidden in an excavation, and their horses had nose bags on as they were on a rest stop. One man held the horses while Taylor and the others moved forward with their rifles to the edge of the bank. From there, they were able to shoot every horse and a few men so that the German column couldn’t move. Then Taylor said every man for himself, and to get back the best way you can. They went back, losing one man while two were wounded.

I’ll come back to Skirrett’s account soon, but let’s continue with the account of these events written by James McWilliams in his book Amiens: Dawn of Victory:

“On the extreme right flank where the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles advanced along the Amiens – Roye Road there occurred an incident, insignificant strategically but typical in many ways of the events of Friday, August 9. The 5th had by-passed Arvillers, a town to their right in the French sector, and assisted by four tanks had pressed on to take their own objective, Bouchoir.”

“The French south of the road had been stopped in front of Arvillers despite the support of Brutinel’s Independent Force. Around 5:00 the men of the two motor machine gun batteries fought their way into Arvillers and captured twenty-five prisoners… The 5th CMRs, looking over their right shoulder and seeing groups of the enemy retreating from Arvillers in the French sector, dispatched a platoon and one tank to occupy and mop up the village at 5:30.”

At 5:40, in the words of the War Diary of the 5th CMR.

A considerable number of enemy vehicles (a German ammunition convoy, as it turned out) were noticed retiring South eastwards from Southern outskirts of Arvillers. This was pointed out to a squadron of Imperial Cavalry who had just moved up in close proximity to our H.Q., and we suggested that they could with very little difficulty, make a good capture, but they were either unable or unwilling to seize the opportunity.

The Wrecked Church of Arvillers

The Wrecked Church of Arvillers

“Instead, five volunteers from the Canadian Light Horse offered to tackle the ammunition convoy. Lieutenant F. A. Taylor and his men had been sent forward from Brigade Headquarters to deliver a message. Now Taylor, Sergeant Duncan, and Privates Dudgeon, Grisdale and Hastie mounted and galloped to a line of old trenches south of the road. There they dismounted and worked their way along the trenches.”

Here we can hear what Lieutenant Freddy Taylor himself wrote about what happened:

I decided to rush the convoy and left the trenches. Some resistance was offered so I opened fire and shot the officer and 12 or 15 men. The remainder, about 20 men, surrendered. Heavy rifle and M.G. fire was opened on us from the trenches so we seized the lead horses and rushed them toward our own lines. The enemy advanced some machine guns within 400 yards and as I realized there was no chance of getting the convoy clear, I shot some of the horses and rushed my prisoners into the trench… as a body of the enemy were advancing with the intention of cutting us off.

Canadian Troops at Amiens 1918

Canadian Troops at Amiens 1918

McWilliams continues:

Meanwhile another platoon of the 5th CMR and a tank had been dispatched to help the five Light Horsemen bring in the captured ammunition convoy. But while they were on their way the French put down a belated rolling barrage on Arvillers where the CMRs first platoon was mopping up with the aid of a tank. Both platoons and both tanks were hastily recalled. Taylor and his four men were split up and forced to abandon their prisoners. When they reached Canadian lines, two were missing – Hastie and Grisdale. It is believed that Grisdale stayed with his wounded comrade. That night a search was carried out and the body of Private Hastie was found having apparently died of wounds. There was no trace of Grisdale.

And thus it was that Trooper Lionel Grisdale died: staying behind to help a wounded comrade.

There is one final thing to add. There were several versions of these events, though not regarding Lionel’s death. Lieutenant Skirrett writes:

LCol Leonard asked me to determine exactly what had happened and to determine whether or not Taylor should get a decoration. After I turned in the full story, Taylor was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and the surviving men… were awarded Military Medals (MM). When I had talked to the men involved, each had told a different story, as if they had not all been in the same place at the same time. They all said they had never seen anything so ridiculous or so foolish in the whole war. I conclude that I thought the whole action quote reckless.

Whether Lionel’s father Mayor Frederick Grisdale knew these scanty facts regarding his son’s death three years later when he unveiled the cenotaph in Thorold, I don’t know.

What about Frederick’s other and older son Arthur? As I mentioned, Arthur had joined the 8th Battalion of the Canadian Field Artillery as a Gunner. He died on the killing fields of the Somme, ‘near Courcelette’ on 4 November, 1916. Maybe I’ll tell his story later.

In 1816 Gideon Grisdale was only about twelve when he arrived with his family in Canada. The family were early settlers in North Monaghan, Ontario and I told something of their journey from Cumberland and their early years in Canada in a previous article. This is a brief story about Gideon (and later about his son who was also called Gideon) after he moved to help build a canal.

Gideon Grisdale Senior

Gideon was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England in 1804, he had been named Gideon after his father Wilfred’s brother.   

Building the Welland Canal

While some of Gideon’s family remained in and around Peterborough County for a long time after the family’s arrival in 1816, he, together with his brother James, soon sought work elsewhere. It was probably in the late 1820s or maybe the early 1830s, when Gideon was in his early or mid twenties, when he moved to Allanburg in Welland County, near Niagara and the American border. Allanburg was at first a shanty town which had sprung up to house the mostly English and Irish workers who had arrived to build the first Welland Canal linking Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. A village was later laid out in 1832 by Samuel Keefer and originally named Allanburgh to honour two men: William Allan, a Toronto banker who was vice-president of the Canal Company, and John Vanderburgh, the first settler. On November 30, 1824, approximately 200 people gathered near Allanburg to witness the sod-turning for the construction of the canal.

The construction of the Canal was beset with challenges and underwent several revisions of its route, but a mere five years after incorporation, on November 30, 1829, the first vessels passed up the completed canal from Port Dalhousie to Lake Erie.

It is highly probable that it was to find work as a labourer on the canal that Gideon trekked from the forests and lakes of Peterborough County all the way to Allanburg. Besides to work on the canal there was no other reason to go there. Gideon probably first lived in the shanty town.

The life of the canal builders was hard. We are told that “undoubtedly the most challenging part of the entire project was digging through the earlier miscalculated 18-metre height of land between Allanburg and Port Robinson”.

This involved excavating a cut of more than 3.2 kilometres in length, at times to a depth of 21 metres from which over 760,000 cubic metres of earth were removed.

The construction was very labour-intensive, with from 250 to 600 men being employed at one time, at a wage of 63 cents a day.

The work was very heavy and difficult, accomplished by human brawn helped only by crude tools and animals. The earth was loosened by pick and shovel, moved from the excavation site by wheelbarrow and then loaded onto ox-drawn carts, or wagons pulled by horses.

If the banks were too steep for the animals to climb, mud had to be shovelled into sacks and with much struggling carried to the surface upon men’s backs.

The work was not without danger. Unstable soil, some sources even describe quicksand, was encountered in many places. Rock had to be drilled by hand and then blown apart by gunpowder. The company once boasted that there had only been three deaths “in a considerable period of time.”

Disease also took a heavy toll. Due to the conditions of moving huge quantities of wet earth, many labourers fell ill with fever. Cholera, likewise, was a grave problem.

Even the work animals suffered. Numerous oxen were killed sliding down the steep banks that became slippery after heavy rains, and many horses died from injury and infection.

Work continued on a southern extension, which was finished in 1833. In the same year Gideon married  Mary Ann Green (called Ann). Two children followed: Gideon Junior in 1835 and Robert John in 1837, both born in Allanburg itself. We next find the family in the 1850 Canadian census in Thorold, in which Gideon is listed as a labourer. Whether he was still labouring on building canals we don’t know, although the second Welland Canal which had been started in 1841 was still not fully completed.

In 1860 Gideon was to be found back in Duoro Peterborough County. He was widowed and living with his farmer nephew Wilfred McCue. How long he stayed in Duoro isn’t known, it’s also unclear how long he had lived in a house his son had bought and sold to him in Allanburg. The Thorold records contain information regarding the purchase of some land and a house in Allanburg, right next to the canal, in 1857 and 1860:

On 20 Jul 1857 (Reg 22 Jul 1857) John Harper et ux sold to Gideon Grisdale ½ acre upon which is erected and known as All Nations House in the Village of Allanburg in Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. For £300.

Three years later Gideon Junior sold this to his father:

On 16 Jun 1860 (Reg 26 Jun 1860) Gideon Grisdale Jr. sold to Gideon Grisdale Sr. ½ acre in the Village of Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. for £300.

So it seems that Gideon’s son Gideon Junior had by the age of 23 been able to buy land and a house which he sold three years later to his father for the same amount he had paid.

This piece of land had an interesting history. Originally it was part of William Hamilton Merritt’s large plot called “Lot 119”. Part of this land he sold to Captain Ogden Creighton, whose widow Eleanor Creighton sold it to John Harper in 1854. It was from this John Harper that Gideon Grisdale Junior bought the land and house before selling it to his father.

An early survey map of the first and second Welland Canal in Allanburg drawn in the 1860s clearly shows a John Harper’s Tavern on the canal as well as a Lock Tender’s House, both in Lot 119.

In any case by 1881 at the latest Gideon Senior was back in Thorold and continued to live there, possibly (but by no means certainly) in All Nations’ House in Allanburg, until his death from diarrhea in September 1889. This is his obituary:

Welland Tribune, September 27, 1889, p. 4.
Gideon Grisdale, Sr., aged 86 years, died at the residence of his niece, Mrs. Tewsley, Low Banks, on Sunday. His body was interred here on Tuesday. Mr. Grisdale has resided in this section about fifty years and for a long time lived at Allanburgh. He served twenty years as locktender, and was employed on the first Welland Canal that was excavated. Deceased was father of Messrs. Robert Grisdale of this place and Gideon Grisdale of the Ontario police, Niagara Falls.

Gideon Grisdale Junior

Turning now to Gideon Junior, from his birth in 1834 until his death sometime after 1891 but before 1901, Gideon Junior lived in and around Allanburg and later in Port Robinson, in Welland. The censuses always refer to him as a “carpenter”. His work very probably was also connected to the canal.

Gideon Grisdale Junior married Margaret Bell in 1856 in Niagara, Canada. They were to have four children: William (1857), Margaret Ann (1859), Alexander Latimer (1861) and Gideon Chatfield (1863).

Perhaps we will never know much more about Gideon Junior’s life, unless his descendants have kept stories or have documents, but as we have seen he had done well enough by 1857 to buy land and a house.

Yet there was one incident where we know that he was present and that was the “Battle of Fort Erie” on June 2nd, 1866. This was a small side event in what have become known as the Fenian Raids.

When the American Civil War ended, the “Fenian Brotherhood, who were based in the United States” started to raid “British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland”.

Canadian Militia during the Fenian Raids

While these raids, which lasted from 1866 to 1871, were perhaps not of great import in the larger scheme of things, they were to be of great significance to the development of Canada’s own national identity. I will not recount the history of the raids as there are many excellent telling of the events. Suffice it to say that usually a mixture of regular British/Canadian troops and locally raised Canadian militia generally saw off the Irish raiders. Except that is for a defeat on the 2nd June, 1866 at the “Battle of Ridgeway”.

Before news of this rare Canadian defeat became known orders were given for the tugboat W T Cobb to embark. Gideon Grisdale was a Sergeant in the volunteer Welland Field Battery and he was aboard the Cobb. One history of what happened puts it as follows:

In response to the Fenian occupation of the township of Fort Erie, Ontario on the night of June 1, 1866, militia units throughout the Niagara Peninsula had been mobilized or put on alert. At Port Colborne a detachment of 51 gunners and N.C.O.s, British Royal Artillery bombardier Sergeant James McCracken and 3 officers (Captain Richard S. King M.D., Lieutenants A.K. Schofield and Charles Nimmo [Nemmo]) taken under command by Lieutenant-Colonel John Dennis, boarded a tugboat, the W.T. Robb carrying the Dunville Naval Brigade, consisting of 19 men and 3 officers (Captain Lachlan McCallum, Lieutenant Walter T. Robb, Second Lieutenant Angus Macdonald) (a total of 71 men and 8 officers) and steamed east to the Niagara River, then scouted downriver as far as Black Creek. The Welland Field Battery did not have its four Armstrong guns with it, and were only half armed with Enfield muzzle-loading rifles while the other half with obsolete smooth-bore “Victoria” carbines that had a limited range of approximately 300 yards at best.

The Fenians apparently gone, Dennis turned back upriver to secure the village of Fort Erie and deny them an easy escape route. Dennis and a company of the Welland Field Battery, landed without difficulty, rounding up a number of stragglers. But when John O’Neill returned with the bulk of his force from his victory at Ridgeway, the volunteers – expecting to encounter only scattered bands of defeated Fenians under close pursuit – were unable to resist them. A fierce firelight followed, in which the militia soldiers and sailors were swept off the shores by the better-armed Fenians and most of the Canadians who had landed were captured. While his men were making their stand, Dennis ran away on foot and hid in a house, shedding his uniform and shaving off his luxurious sideburn whiskers. He would later be court-martialled for deserting his men but he was acquitted by two of the three officers serving on the tribunal.

The “Battle” of Fort Erie 1866

Gideon Grisdale had been involved in this fight and was one of those captured. (Some histories have mistranscribed his name as Griswold). They were released by the Fenians a few days later.

The last thing we know about Gideon Junior before his death in Port Robinson in October 1892 is that in 1891 he was living with his wife Margaret in Niagara Falls Town in Welland County. He was it seems by then a member of the “Ontario Police”!  How this came about is a mystery.

In 1816 Gideon Grisdale was only about twelve when he arrived with his family in Canada. The family were early settlers in North Monaghan, Ontario and I told something of their journey from Cumberland and their early years in Canada in a previous article. This is a brief story about Gideon (and later about his son who was also called Gideon) after he moved to help build a canal.

Gideon Grisdale Senior

Gideon was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England in 1804, he had been named Gideon after his father Wilfred’s brother.   

Building the Welland Canal

While some of Gideon’s family remained in and around Peterborough County for a long time after the family’s arrival in 1816, he, together with his brother James, soon sought work elsewhere. It was probably in the late 1820s or maybe the early 1830s, when Gideon was in his early or mid twenties, when he moved to Allanburg in Welland County, near Niagara and the American border. Allanburg was at first a shanty town which had sprung up to house the mostly English and Irish workers who had arrived to build the first Welland Canal linking Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. A village was later laid out in 1832 by Samuel Keefer and originally named Allanburgh to honour two men: William Allan, a Toronto banker who was vice-president of the Canal Company, and John Vanderburgh, the first settler. On November 30, 1824, approximately 200 people gathered near Allanburg to witness the sod-turning for the construction of the canal.

The construction of the Canal was beset with challenges and underwent several revisions of its route, but a mere five years after incorporation, on November 30, 1829, the first vessels passed up the completed canal from Port Dalhousie to Lake Erie.

It is highly probable that it was to find work as a labourer on the canal that Gideon trekked from the forests and lakes of Peterborough County all the way to Allanburg. Besides to work on the canal there was no other reason to go there. Gideon probably first lived in the shanty town.

The life of the canal builders was hard. We are told that “undoubtedly the most challenging part of the entire project was digging through the earlier miscalculated 18-metre height of land between Allanburg and Port Robinson”.

This involved excavating a cut of more than 3.2 kilometres in length, at times to a depth of 21 metres from which over 760,000 cubic metres of earth were removed.

The construction was very labour-intensive, with from 250 to 600 men being employed at one time, at a wage of 63 cents a day.

The work was very heavy and difficult, accomplished by human brawn helped only by crude tools and animals. The earth was loosened by pick and shovel, moved from the excavation site by wheelbarrow and then loaded onto ox-drawn carts, or wagons pulled by horses.

If the banks were too steep for the animals to climb, mud had to be shovelled into sacks and with much struggling carried to the surface upon men’s backs.

The work was not without danger. Unstable soil, some sources even describe quicksand, was encountered in many places. Rock had to be drilled by hand and then blown apart by gunpowder. The company once boasted that there had only been three deaths “in a considerable period of time.”

Disease also took a heavy toll. Due to the conditions of moving huge quantities of wet earth, many labourers fell ill with fever. Cholera, likewise, was a grave problem.

Even the work animals suffered. Numerous oxen were killed sliding down the steep banks that became slippery after heavy rains, and many horses died from injury and infection.

Work continued on a southern extension, which was finished in 1833. In the same year Gideon married  Mary Ann Green (called Ann). Two children followed: Gideon Junior in 1834 and Robert John in 1837, both born in Allanburg itself. We next find the family in the 1850 Canadian census in Thorold, in which Gideon is listed as a labourer. Whether he was still labouring on building canals we don’t know, although the second Welland Canal which had been started in 1841 was still not fully completed.

In 1860 Gideon was to be found back in Duoro Peterborough County. He was widowed and living with his farmer nephew Wilfred McCue. How long he stayed in Duoro isn’t known, it’s also unclear how long he had lived in a house his son had bought and sold to him in Allanburg. The Thorold records contain information regarding the purchase of some land and a house in Allanburg, right next to the canal, in 1857 and 1860:

On 20 Jul 1857 (Reg 22 Jul 1857) John Harper et ux sold to Gideon Grisdale ½ acre upon which is erected and known as All Nations House in the Village of Allanburg in Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. For £300.

Three years later Gideon Junior sold this to his father:

On 16 Jun 1860 (Reg 26 Jun 1860) Gideon Grisdale Jr. sold to Gideon Grisdale Sr. ½ acre in the Village of Allanburg in Lot 119 Thorold Twp. for £300.

So it seems that Gideon’s son Gideon Junior had by the age of 23 been able to buy land and a house which he sold three years later to his father for the same amount he had paid.

This piece of land had an interesting history. Originally it was part of William Hamilton Merritt’s large plot called “Lot 119”. Part of this land he sold to Captain Ogden Creighton, whose widow Eleanor Creighton sold it to John Harper in 1854. It was from this John Harper that Gideon Grisdale Junior bought the land and house before selling it to his father.

An early survey map of the first and second Welland Canal in Allanburg drawn in the 1860s clearly shows a John Harper’s Tavern on the canal as well as a Lock Tender’s House, both in Lot 119.

In any case by 1881 at the latest Gideon Senior was back in Thorold and continued to live there, possibly (but by no means certainly) in All Nations’ House in Allanburg, until his death from diarrhea in September 1889. This is his obituary:

Welland Tribune, September 27, 1889, p. 4.
Gideon Grisdale, Sr., aged 86 years, died at the residence of his niece, Mrs. Tewsley, Low Banks, on Sunday. His body was interred here on Tuesday. Mr. Grisdale has resided in this section about fifty years and for a long time lived at Allanburgh. He served twenty years as locktender, and was employed on the first Welland Canal that was excavated. Deceased was father of Messrs. Robert Grisdale of this place and Gideon Grisdale of the Ontario police, Niagara Falls.

Gideon Grisdale Junior

Turning now to Gideon Junior, from his birth in 1834 until his death sometime after 1891 but before 1901, Gideon Junior lived in and around Allanburg and later in Port Robinson, in Welland. The censuses always refer to him as a “carpenter”. His work very probably was also connected to the canal; he might also have been a lock keeper on the canal.

Gideon Grisdale Junior married Margaret Bell in 1856 in Niagara, Canada. They were to have four children: William (1857), Margaret Ann (1859), Alexander Latimer (1861) and Gideon Chatfield (1863).

Perhaps we will never know much more about Gideon Junior’s life, unless his descendants have kept stories or have documents, but as we have seen he had done well enough by 1857 to buy land and a house.

Yet there was one incident where we know that he was present and that was the “Battle of Fort Erie” on June 2nd, 1866. This was a small side event in what have become known as the Fenian Raids.

When the American Civil War ended, the “Fenian Brotherhood, who were based in the United States” started to raid “British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland”.

Canadian Militia during the Fenian Raids

While these raids, which lasted from 1866 to 1871, were perhaps not of great import in the larger scheme of things, they were to be of great significance to the development of Canada’s own national identity. I will not recount the history of the raids as there are many excellent telling of the events. Suffice it to say that usually a mixture of Regular British/Canadian troops and locally raised Canadian militia generally saw off the Irish raiders. Except that is for a defeat on the 2nd June, 1866 at the “Battle of Ridgeway”.

Before news of this rare Canadian defeat became known orders were given for the tugboat W T Cobb to embark. Gideon Grisdale was a Sergeant in the volunteer Welland Field Battery and he was aboard the Cobb. One history of what happened puts it as follows:

In response to the Fenian occupation of the township of Fort Erie, Ontario on the night of June 1, 1866, militia units throughout the Niagara Peninsula had been mobilized or put on alert. At Port Colborne a detachment of 51 gunners and N.C.O.s, British Royal Artillery bombardier Sergeant James McCracken and 3 officers (Captain Richard S. King M.D., Lieutenants A.K. Schofield and Charles Nimmo [Nemmo]) taken under command by Lieutenant-Colonel John Dennis, boarded a tugboat, the W.T. Robb carrying the Dunville Naval Brigade, consisting of 19 men and 3 officers (Captain Lachlan McCallum, Lieutenant Walter T. Robb, Second Lieutenant Angus Macdonald) (a total of 71 men and 8 officers) and steamed east to the Niagara River, then scouted downriver as far as Black Creek. The Welland Field Battery did not have its four Armstrong guns with it, and were only half armed with Enfield muzzle-loading rifles while the other half with obsolete smooth-bore “Victoria” carbines that had a limited range of approximately 300 yards at best.

The Fenians apparently gone, Dennis turned back upriver to secure the village of Fort Erie and deny them an easy escape route. Dennis and a company of the Welland Field Battery, landed without difficulty, rounding up a number of stragglers. But when John O’Neill returned with the bulk of his force from his victory at Ridgeway, the volunteers – expecting to encounter only scattered bands of defeated Fenians under close pursuit – were unable to resist them. A fierce firelight followed, in which the militia soldiers and sailors were swept off the shores by the better-armed Fenians and most of the Canadians who had landed were captured. While his men were making their stand, Dennis ran away on foot and hid in a house, shedding his uniform and shaving off his luxurious sideburn whiskers. He would later be court-martialled for deserting his men but he was acquitted by two of the three officers serving on the tribunal.

The “Battle” of Fort Erie 1866

Gideon Grisdale had been involved in this fight and was one of those captured. (Some histories have mistranscribed his name as Griswold). They were released by the Fenians a few days later.

The last thing we know about Gideon Junior before his death in Port Robinson in October 1892 is that in 1891 he was living with his wife Margaret in Niagara Falls Town in Welland County. He was it seems by then a member of the “Ontario Police”!  How this came about is a mystery.

As throughout much of its history, Britain at the end of the Napoleonic Wars was an unforgiving and brutal place for ordinary people trying to make a living.  Quite a number chose to emigrate to the New World, to find a better life. The life they found wasn’t always easy, it was often hard in the extreme, but their courage and fortitude often paid off, at least for their descendants. This is the story of one Matterdale man and his family who did just this: Wilfred Grisdale.

The area of North Monaghan in Ontario as Wilfred Grisdale might have first seen it

In the early nineteenth century much of Upper Canada was still a land of virgin forest and lakes. Of course there were natives Indians but in much of Ontario, for example, many of the forests had no settlements. When there was any path at all it was just, as early pioneer Charles Fothergill put it in 1817, “a windy way through the forest made by the Indians”.

One small piece of this vast land became the Township of North Monaghan, which is situated in the southwest corner of what is now known as Peterborough County.

The latest history of the township, published in 1990 by the North Monaghan Historical Research Committee and titled A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989, says this:

Prior to 1817,  few humans had set foot on the Township soil or gazed from the Otanabee river at its heavily forested shores.

Although “a few tracks were testimony to the presence of Indian hunting parties in the past”.

But in 1817 the surveyor Samuel Wilmot had already completed the first survey of the area, the land being divided into lots to which early settlers would stakes claims. One of the very first 11 settlers in North Monaghan was a certain Wilfred Grisdale. In 1817, he staked a claim to Lot 4 (East ½) of concession number twelve.

Wilfred and his family are the founders of a veritable Grisdale dynasty in Canada and the United States.

Jenny Hill Farm, Matterdale. Wilfred Grisdale was (probably) born and raised here

Wilfred Grisdale was born in Matterdale in Cumberland in 1782, probably at Jenny Hill Farm. He was the fourth child of the old blacksmith in Dockray, Matterdale: also called Wilfred Grisdale, and his second wife Ruth Slee. Wilfred Senior had been born in 1711 to Joseph Grisdale and Agnes Dockray. He had married Ann Brownrigg in 1733 but the couple had no children. But when Ann died in 1775, Wilfred wasted no time in marrying again. He married a young Ruth Slee (48 years his junior) in 1776, at the age of 65. But children soon followed, six in all: Gideon, Charlotte, Bilhah, Wilfred, Joseph and William. It is this second Wilfred that is the centre of this story.

Wilfred was to marry Jane Bell in the village church of Hutton in the Forest near Carlisle, the Cumberland county town, on the 6th November 1803, aged 21. The family settled in Carlisle itself and seven children followed, all baptized in Saint Mary’s Church, Carlisle: Gideon (1804), Ann (1805), Wilfred (1807), Ruth (1809), James (1812), Jane (1810) and Joseph (1816).

I wrote about Wilfred’s brother Gideon and his ballet dancer daughter in my last article. For parochial interest, his brother William was my 3rd great grandfather.

In 1816, or in early 1817, Wilfred emigrated with his whole family to Canada to start a new life.

We don’t know the precise reasons for the family’s decision or which ship they travelled on to the “New World”, but the Carlisle newspapers of the time were full of advertisements trying to attract people to move to North America offering the prospect of land grants and assistance with the passage. Perhaps Wilfred was attracted by one of these?

Whatever the truth, Wilfred and his family arrived in North Monaghan in Upper Canada in 1817, perhaps following the route taken in 1825 by Peter Robinson who brought many Irish settlers to the area. Robinson had “sailed from Liverpool to New York and proceeded from thence to Toronto by way of Niagara”. Only later were more direct and less “roundabout” routes to Toronto available.

The settlers from the “Old Country” came by boat as far as Cobourg. From there some found their way by ox cart to Rice Lake and then by smaller boats to spots along the Otanabee River. Others walked, carrying their possessions, north through the forest by way of Port Hope.

Once there, there were two methods of staking a land claim:

By lot or by following the surveyors trails until a lot of land which pleased them was found. Taking note of the number and concession from the marked posts of the surveyors, they returned to Port Hope to make the required application to the land agent in order to secure their lot. During this expedition visit, one or more nights had to be spent in the forest.

Where having kindled a fire, they lay down to sleep beneath the branches of a group of trees, wearied and fatigued, and worse, perhaps wet and torn with the mishaps of the journey.

A Pioneer Settler House in Canada

Wilfred had to stake his claim. “The first requisite to procure land in those days was to take an oath of allegiance, on which a certificate was issued as evidence of the fact.” Usually no payment was needed due to the unsettled nature of the area. Once he had staked his claim in North Monaghan in 1817, the hard work began for Wilfred and his wife and young family: clearing the forest, building a rude wooden hut or “shanty” before the onset of winter and trying to grow or procure enough to survive.

We are lucky to have a book written by a Peterborough County man in 1867, called A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough. This man was Dr Thomas W Poole and he had both experienced much of what he described or, for the very early settlement years, he had relied on first-hand accounts from the surviving first settlers. He writes:

The first settlers… encountered difficulties and privations of which we, in after time, can have but a faint conception. Unaccustomed as many of them were to the new scenes in which they found themselves placed; with scant provisions, and separated by long wastes of wood water from their fellow-kind, their situation, with their wives and little ones must have been at times appalling; and by less indomitable spirits, would have been relinquished in despair.

Wilfred Grisdale was one of these settlers and was, indeed, with his wife and “little ones”. Dr Poole continues the story:

During the first few years, great difficulties were often felt in procuring the necessary provisions with which to support life. These had to be brought all the way from Port Hope or Cobourg, in the most laborious manner, and in the total absence of even the most ordinary roads; the only guide being the “blaze” upon the trees through the interminable forest, in which they seems entombed. Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that whole families were often for weeks without tasting bread, and that the herbs and succulent roots of the rich woods were often called into requisition to lengthen out their scanty fare.

But as Dr Poole tells us from the testimony of the settlers themselves:

Gradually the blue smoke from the settler’s shanty, and the tiny opening in the forest, began to appear here and there, at intervals, often of miles between… But the number of shanty fires gradually grew larger, as giant trunk and tender sapling groaned and fell beneath the sturdy strokes of the settler’s axe, then the huge heaps appeared, rolled together by united effort. The flames crackled and roared.

Far away into the gloom of the dark forest shot the gleam of the evening fires, which told that a conqueror had come, and that civilization and the luxuries of comfort and refinement were on the way to cheer and enliven these rude fastnesses of nature, and bid them smile with a new growth and a more prolific harvest. The first rude shanty gave way to a substantial and comfortable mansion. Flocks and herds increased; and as time progressed and the population grew, the rude wilderness became a comparative garden.

Mercifully during the first hard years in Canada all of the Grisdale children survived. Wilfred and Jane even had one more child called Maria born in North Monaghan in about 1822 – the first Grisdale of this family to be born on North American soil.

We can only hope that Wilfred and his wife were able to enjoy the fruits of their labour in the manner evoked by Dr Poole:

Well may the veteran pioneer pause now in the evening of his days and look around on the wonders wrought by time and industry. Proudly may he point to the spot where he first reclined beneath the spreading trees, wet with the morning dew, during that first visit to his future farm, and contrast the scene with the present, with its broad acres and cultivated fields, its neat farm houses and thriftly barns, which he expects soon to leave a rich heritage to his children.

I hope so.

The Grave of Maria Grisdale in Thorold, Ontario. Maria was the first and only Canadian born child of Wilfred Grisdale

We don’t know when Wilfred and his wife Jane died but we do know that his children soon started to move to, and settle in, other parts of Ontario (Upper Canada) as well as across the border into Michigan.

I won’t go into the marriages and children of Wilfred and Jane’s own children here because it would involve writing a book. For those who are interested, please refer to my own family tree on ancestry.com, mentioned in the “About” page of this blog.

What, however, is clear is that there are alive today in Canada and the United States literally hundreds and probably thousands of Grisdales (and others) who owe their existence to the decision of Wilfred and his wife Jane to leave Cumberland, where the family had lived for centuries, and to make the hazardous voyage to Canada to start a new life.

I hope some of Wilfred and Jane’s Canadian or American descendants will write some of the fascinating stories of their children.

Sources

North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, 1990,  A History and Story of North Monaghan Township 1817-1989.

http://www.ourroots.ca/e/page.aspx?id=911774

Thomas W. Poole M.D, Peterborough Review, Peterborough, 1867, A Sketch of The Early Settlement and Subsequent Progress of the Town of Peterborough and Each Township in the County of Peterborough.

http://books.google.fr/books/about/A_sketch_of_the_early_settlement_and_sub.html?id=orMNAAAAQAAJ&redir_esc=y