Posts Tagged ‘Welland’

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.

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.

An Ohio local newspaper, the Marion Morning Star, published the rather breathless article below in March 1878. You’ll see that not much has changed with regard to what fascinates journalists.

Okanagan Elders

Okanagan Elders

‘Killed for Being a Sorceress’

Advices received from British Columbia report a singular murder there of an aged white woman by an Okanagan chief named Red Berry. The old woman was the widow of James Grisdale, one of the first white settlers in the Okanagan district. She was reputed to be wealthy, and was accounted a sorceress by the Indians around about. Several of Red Berry’s horses had died of a murrain, some weeks ago, and the medicine men of the Okanagans held that Mrs. Grisdale had afflicted them with disease. Red Berry at once started for her abode, and finding her on her knees at prayer, concluded that he had caught her in the very act of practicing her black art, and with one blow of a club he dashed her brains out. He then informed the white settlers nearby of what he had done, and asked them to reward him for ridding their flocks and herds of an evil spirit. He was arrested, and taken to the jail at Okanagan. Red Berry, beyond doubt, thought he was doing the community a meritorious service.

Map of Okanagan B. C.

Map of Okanagan B. C.

What a great, though sad, story!

But who were James Grisdale and his murdered ‘sorceress’ wife?

Okanagan is a mountainous area in present-day British Columbia, half way between Calgary and Vancouver. For centuries it was a land of native peoples, in this area the Okanagan tribal group. During the early decades of the nineteenth century European fur trappers and traders appeared, as did trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay Company. But it was gold that brought the first large numbers of whites to the region.

The first gold obtained by the Hudson’s Bay Company was brought to Fort Kamloops by a native in 1852. He was said to have found it while taking a drink of water from the lower Thompson River. Donald McLean, the Chief Trader at Fort Kamloops informed his superiors in Victoria and they decided to keep it secret so the fur trade would not be disrupted. The traders encouraged the natives to mine the gold and use it for trade at the forts.

Miners in Okanagan

Miners in Okanagan

The Native people quickly realized the value of gold and began to mine it using iron spoons obtained from the Hudson’s Bay Company. They did not have miner’s tools such as pans or rockers and only small amounts of gold were traded. Gold was then worth $17 an ounce, which was more than a Hudson’s Bay employee earned in a month. Nevertheless fewer than 4 ounces of gold were sold at Fort Kamloops in 1856. In 1857, many more miners rushed to the Thompson River area.

The arrival of white miners quickly led to conflict because the native people felt the gold was theirs since it originated from their lands. They also believed the mining activities would prevent the salmon from completing their migration up the Fraser and Thompson Rivers. Salmon was the main source of food for many of the tribes and they blamed the miners for the small salmon runs that year. Rumors of gold deposits quickly spread south and in the spring of 1858, over 30,000 miners, mostly American, rushed up from California to the Fraser and Thompson Rivers searching for gold. A few miners returned to Fort Victoria with over $150,000 worth of gold, a huge fortune in those days. Gold fever struck and the mad gold rush was on.

Fraser River Gold Rush

Fraser River Gold Rush

And:

The gold rush never affected life in the Okanagan directly until gold was discovered in Rock Creek around 1859. By 1860, about 500 miners, mainly Americans who had abandoned their claims in Washington and Oregon had settled in the area. The Okanagan gold rush ended as quickly as it started. The gold rush had a significant impact on life in the Okanagan. The large influx of miners and their families resulted in a demand for goods and services that previously didn’t exist. The new market for goods and services drew merchants, farmers and ranchers interested in meeting that demand and who required land and more permanent settlements in order to do so. The demand for land required for agricultural development and permanent settlements meant that the aboriginal population had to be removed from the land that was needed.

Overlanders Crossing A Swamp

Overlanders Crossing A Swamp

Most of miners didn’t say long, the next major influx came in 1862 when a group of about 150 settlers ‘travelled from Ontario to the BC interior, led by brothers Thomas and Robert McMicking of Stamford Township, Welland County, Ontario’. ‘They went in groups by ship and American railway to Fort Garry [Winnipeg]. Leaving there in early June 1862, equipped with Red River carts and a few horses, they reached Fort Edmonton on July 21 and traded their carts for pack horses. With the help of Indian guides they crossed the Rockies. All but 6 survived the perilous descent of the Fraser River by raft to Fort George [Prince George]. Most went on to the Cariboo goldfields, and many, including the McMickings, had successful careers in BC. The only woman Overlander, Catherine O’Hare Schubert, took her 3 children with her and gave birth to her fourth only hours after arriving at Kamloops in October.’

Overlanders' Cart at Red River

Overlanders’ Cart at Red River

There are several fascinating first-hand accounts of this long and perilous trip of the ‘Overlanders of 1862’; I commend them to you.

So did James Grisdale, who was ‘one of the first white settlers in the Okanagan district,’ arrive there as a miner or later as a ‘settler’ with the Overlanders? The fact that when Mrs Grisdale was clubbed to death in1878 she was referred to as an ‘aged white woman’ and as ‘the old woman’ might argue for an earlier mining arrival, as does the fact that ‘she was reputed to be wealthy’. You didn’t get wealthy as an early farm settler in British Columbia! Maybe James had been one of the lucky few miners who had ‘returned to Fort Victoria with over $150,000 worth of gold’? While this is possible, I tend to think that James was more likely one of the 1862 Overlanders, which I think would probably still qualify him as ‘one of the first white settlers’. The main reasons for this belief are as follows:

First, there were only two large Grisdale families established in North America before 1862 (there is one small caveat). These were the Grisdale family which arrived in Quebec in about 1824 (see here) and the family of Wilfred Grisdale that arrived in Peterborough County, Ontario in 1816/17 (see here). Regarding the first group, I know what became of them and their descendants and there was no ‘James’ who could fit the bill. Regarding the second family, there is indeed one James Grisdale who just might be our man: James Grisdale (born 1830) was the son of Wilfred Grisdale and Mary Maloney, and the grandson of the immigrant Wilfred Grisdale (born 1782). It might be that this James died young (possibly in Peterborough in 1857), or, before he appeared in any records, he might have set out to the West. Being born in 1830 he would have been both old and young enough to have participated in the arduous trek of 1862, which we are told consisted mostly of young farmers. He would also have been old enough to be a gold rush miner in 1858 or somewhat earlier. A problem with this putative identification is that he died before his wife was slain in 1878 and thus he would have been either in his thirties or forties. Does this square with his wife being an ‘old woman’ in 1878?

The second fact that might argue for James having been one of the 1862 Overlanders is that they were mostly, we are told, young farmers from Ontario. The Grisdales were farmers and Welland County was precisely where some of the family had ended up. For example Gideon Grisdale (the uncle of our putative James) had moved to Welland County in the 1820s to help build the first Welland Canal (see here); another uncle called James was also in Welland by 1861 with his family. So maybe ‘our’ James had joined the Overlanders in 1862 while visiting them?

Okanagan Indians

Okanagan Indians

Yet the fact remains that I can’t positively identify which James Grisdale was the early settler in British Columbia and whose wife was clubbed to death by Chief Red Berry.

I mentioned one caveat. There were a few other people named Grisdale in North American before 1862 who don’t seem to have belonged to the two families I have highlighted. Their appearance in the records is so fleeting that nothing much can be established about them or their origins. In Illinois there was an ‘English-born’ miner William R. Grisdale who fought in the Civil War and was later on involved in the murder of several black miners in Indiana. I’ll return to him at a later date. Then also in Illinois there is a family in 1855 headed by a G. Grisdale; who he was I can only guess. There are a few other mentions of early Grisdales in the United States.

So James Grisdale and his wife remain a bit of a mystery.

Okanagan Valley Today

Okanagan Valley Today

I’m not an expert on native American/Canadian Indians, but in Okanagan B. C. they were, as elsewhere, subjected to violence and disappropriation. Regarding the Okanagan gold miners:

A company of about 300 miners travelling north along the west side of Okanagan Lake destroyed the winter provisions of an unattended Okanagan Indian village. The following day they ambushed and massacred a group of unarmed Indians. These acts demonstrated the miner’s hostile attitude towards the Indians. The conflict increased as the population of miners mushroomed and by July of 1858 there were over 8,000 miners on a 60 kilometre stretch of the Fraser River.

James Douglas, the governor of the colony, feared a war between the feuding parties, especially after the Cayuse Indians defeated the US troops in Oregon. Throughout the summer, trouble brewed at Hill’s Bar and Boston Bar on the Fraser River. At Boston Bar there was fighting involving over 140 miners, where reportedly 7 Indians were killed. The miners viewed the Indians as obstacles while the Indians viewed the gold as theirs since it came from their lands. Also, the traditional Indian food supplies of game, salmon and berries were being taken by the miners.

A vigilante force of 167 armed miners who were led by Captain Snyder went up the Fraser river ready to fight Indians to quell the unrest, but the tension had eased by the time they reached the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. Governor Douglas heard about the skirmishes and travelled to the area with some troops. His fact-finding mission blamed the miners for the problems since the armed miners had driven the Indians from the river, which prevented them from gathering food and mining gold. The Indians stated that the miners interfered with their village sites, took their salmon and were disrespectful of their families. Chiefs from many areas expressed their concern to Governor Douglas who gave stern warnings to the American miners; he also claimed all the gold within the Fraser and Thompson Rivers for the British Crown.

In order to prevent the Americans from expanding their borders and to enforce British law, Douglas declared the mainland a British colony. This action ended the Hudson’s Bay Company Charter and any control it had over the region. In November of 1858 British Columbia was officially declared a colony and Douglas was named Governor. He could now regulate law and order to protect British interests on the mainland and on Vancouver Island.

The gold miners were the forerunners of white settlement in British Columbia. The settlers, unlike the miners they followed, came to stay. But like the miners, the settlers had little respect or tolerance for the Indian peoples. The conflict was clear. The First Nations had the land and the settlers wanted it for farming, ranching and business. The Shuswap traditionally migrated to different areas of their territory as the seasons changed, thus the settlers believed that they were not making use of their land. More changes were forced on the Shuswap as overwhelming numbers of settlers arrived and took over the land.

The ownership of the land remains an unresolved dispute between the Shuswap and the present levels of government to this day.

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.