A Decade of Turbulence

A Final Attempt by the Fenians

Fenian infantryman, 1870

Caption: Fenian infantryman, 1870

In spite of repeated defeats, the Fenians had not been discouraged, and in 1870 they made a new attempt at invading Canada.' Spies had reported the possibility of an attack in May. The Canadian government thus mobilized 13,000 volunteers, equally divided between Quebec and Ontario.

On May 25 approximately 600 Fenians, 144 under the command of General John O'Neill, left Franklin, Vermont, and reached Eccles Hill, Quebec, just north of the Canadian border. The 60th Canadian Battalion and approximately 75 farmers in the area, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Brown Chamberlin, were waiting for them and were soon joined by some 400 volunteer militiamen under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Osborne Smith. The Fenians had a cannon, but when the Canadian volunteers charged them they took flight and left it in the field along with other equipment. No Canadians were hurt, whereas there were five Fenians killed and 18 wounded.

Two days later the invaders came again, this time crossing the border at Trout River, Quebec, some 15 kilometres west of Eccles Hill. The 50th Canadian Battalion, along with a company of the 69th British Regiment and the Montreal Volunteer Artillery, were already there. The accurate fire of the artillery drove the Fenians from their cover in the woods, while the Anglo-Canadian infantry advanced on them with fixed bayonets. They fled after firing -three salvos too high to cause any damage. The Canadians and British suffered losses, but the Fenians had three more dead.

On October 5, 1871, the Fenians made a final attempt. This time O'Neill and 40 men crossed the Manitoba border at Emerson north of Pembina and took the Canadian customs office. The next day Canadian soldiers and volunteers from Winnipeg and Saint-Boniface 145 learned, on their way to battle, that the American army had arrested O'Neill and his men.

It did not take long for everyone in Canada to realize that the era of the Fenian "invasions" was well and truly over. The movement lost much of its popularity and political weight in the United States, no doubt because of its repeated military defeats. Also, the American government, which was keen to maintain good relations with Canada and Great Britain, appeared to be ready to take more forcible action to disarm such organizations on its territory.

Additional Images

Canadian volunteers of the 50th Battalion 'Huntingdon Borderers' engage Fenian raiders
Military Encampment of Canadian Volunteer Militia at Fort Wellington, 
Prescott (Ontario), 1870