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Glengarry's Military Heritage

1784 - 1914

“I beg to state that the County of Glengarry has on every occasion been distinguished for good conduct, and will on any emergency turn out more fighting men in proportion to its population than any other in her Majesty’s Dominions”. So reported Lieutenant Colonel Carmichael to Lieutenant General Sir James Macdonell, second in command of her Majesty’s Forces in Canada in 1840.

The military heritage of Glengarry dates back to the arrival of the Loyalists in the County in 1784. The arrival of members of the 84th, Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment, The Kings Royal Regiment of New York and Butler’s Rangers had all seen service in the engagements of the American Revolution. Their combined military and Loyalist background gave them an excellent background as soldier settlers in the eastern counties of Upper Canada. In 1791, Canada was divided into Upper and Lower Canada. It was not however until 1793 that the Governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe gave consideration to an Act for the better regulation of the Militia. Each County would nominate a Lieutenant. It was his responsibility to appoint officers to the militia force. The choice for Glengarry was John Macdonell, formerly a Lieutenant in the 84th Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment and a son of Alexander Macdonell of Aberhalder. This method of appointing officers was short-lived. The granting of commissions became the duty of the Crown based on recommendation from government

The first militia law required that all male members of the population between 16 and 50 would serve in the “sedentary militia”. Every youth, on attaining his 16th birthday was required to enlist with the militia officer in charge of the district. Failure to do so would result in a fine of $4. Militia companies throughout Glengarry were required to parade for inspection twice a year.

The first local militia regiment was formed in Stormont and Glengarry in 1796, it was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Macdonell, and known as the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Volunteer Regiment of Foot. This regiment was disbanded in 1802 following the Peace of Amiens.

The Loyalists were soon joined in 1804 by another group of soldier settlers when 600 officers and men from the disbanded Glengarry Fencibles arrived from Scotland. They had seen service in Ireland and Guernsey, where they had suppressed rebellions. The regiment, consisting of predominantly Catholic officers and other ranks, had performed well, but were of no further use to the British military establishment, being another casualty of the Peace of Amiens. The men of the regiment immigrated as a group to North America, particularly Glengarry.

The Napoleonic Wars drained the bulk of the British forces from Canada and in 1802, Governor Simcoe declared that each county in Upper Canada was to have its own militia regiment. At that time the militia regiment in Glengarry numbered 443 officers and men. In 1807 a new “Act respecting the Militia” came into force and declared that all men from 16 to 60 were eligible for service. Those between 50 and 60 would only be called in an emergency. It was only in the spring of 1812, with war threatening, that these militia units started to train. Notable in training was the Reverend Alexander Macdonell of St Raphael’s who created defences and a parade ground on church property. The British military establishment in Canada in 1812 numbered 4,450 British regular troops. In addition the British raised two regiments of Canadian troops, the Glengarry Light Infantry Fencibles and the Canadian Fencible Regiment. The troops that formed these regiments were drawn from the militia. Notwithstanding losing officers and men to the Fencibles, the Glengarry Militia proved both active and formidable during the war. Their first major success was on 4th October 1812, when Glengarry provided half the force that captured the American fort at Ogdensburg. The next day at the Battle of Queenston Heights, not only was Major General Brock killed, but his Aide Lieutenant Colonel John MacDonell of Glengarry died at his side. In mid-February 1813, Ogdensburg was the scene of more Glengarry action, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Macdonell formerly of the Fencibles. The attack was a resounding success, with considerable stores of ammunition and weapons being captured. Six Canadian soldiers, including two from Glengarry were killed.

The Reverend Alexander Macdonell was present at the Battle of Ogdensburg and crossed the river ice with the attacking troops to encourage them. The troops from Glengarry were also supported by the Mohawk First Nation. A National Archives document, dated 28th March 1813 details the transportation to Cornwall of a Mohawk chief named Canarohta for burial. He was killed while pursuing retreating Americans after the battle. Lieutenant Colonel George Macdonell was to distinguish himself in June 1813, by moving his 1st Light Infantry Battalion from Kingston to Chateauguay; 170 miles by water and 40 on land in four and a half days. Later that year, in November, the Glengarry Militia, under the command of a British officer, Major Dennis, was to distinguish itself at Hoople Creek and defend Cornwall from an attack by the Americans. Following the defeat of the Americans at Chrysler’s Farm on November, they withdrew towards Cornwall to cross the river. At this point they were attacked by the Glengarry militia which managed to capture many of the enemy’s horses. The Glengarry Fencibles, the only Canadian unit to win a battle honour in the War of 1812-14. That such a regiment be formed was the idea of Colonel John Macdonell, Lieutenant of the County of Glengarry, and was put to then Colonel Isaac Brock, Commandant of troops in Upper and Lower Canada. Approval was finally given in London in March 1812. When the war started the Glengarry Fencibles were stationed in Quebec City and Montreal. In March 2013, they moved to Prescott and Kingston, before being ordered, less one Company, to Niagara and Queenston. This Company took part in an unsuccessful attack on Sackett’s Harbour in late May 1813. The Glengarry Fencibles played a significant role in the final battle of the war, Lundy’s Lane, for which it earned the battle honour “Niagara”. In 1815, the regiment was disbanded.

Following the War of 1812-14, Glengarry had two militia regiments, the First command by Colonel Alexander Fraser, formerly Quarter Master of the Canadian Fencible Regiment. The Second Regiment of Glengarry Militia was commanded by Colonel Donald Macdonell (Greenfield). Had commanded a militia flank company during the war. A third Regiment of Glengarry Militia was formed in 1822 under the command of Colonel Archibald McLean. These militia regiments were to play a significant role in the 1838 Fenian Raids in both Quebec and at the Battle of the Windmill at Prescott in December. A Glengarry militia company remained quartered at Coteau-du-Lac until 1843. Following the Act of Union, which united Upper and Lower Canada in 1841, it would appear the Glengarry acquired a fourth militia battalion; one for each Township.

Canadian military history begins in 1855 with the Militia Act. The Act provided for an “active militia” not to exceed 5,000 men, increasing to 10,000 the next year. The balance of the militia was referred to as the “sedentary militia”. Interest in the militia in Glengarry appears to go in a decline as the “active militia” is continually being reformed, with only one Class “B” unit (Kenyon) active in 1863. The return of the Fenians, in 1864, brought Glengarrians back into action in Laprairie and St Albans.

Following Confederation, the control of the militia passed to the Federal Government. The reorganization that followed, directed that there should be one reserve militia Regiment in each electoral community, with Companies allotted to Townships and Concessions. Companies would be commanded by a Captain, assisted by a Lieutenant and an Ensign.

Under Militia General Order of 3rd July 1868, the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Battalion of infantry was formed. The headquarters was to be in Cornwall, along with three Companies. No.4 Company was in Lancaster; No.5 Company in Williamstown; No.6 Company at Dickinson’s Landing, and later Lunenburg. No.7 Company was designated to Dunvegan. The Dunvegan Company was commanded by Captain Donald McDiarmid. His subordinates were Lieutenant Duncan J McCuaig and Ensign John J McCuaig. Donald McDiarmid was a doctor practicing in Athol. He had been a member of the 59th in Cornwall since 1862 Less than a year after its formation, the Dunvegan Company was called to action. On 25th May 1869, Dr McDiarmid received the call of possible Fenian Raid, and within 24 hours he had rounded up all the members of his company and transported them to Cornwall in logging carts over almost non-existent roads. A photograph of the Company arriving in Cornwall hangs in the Sergeant’s Mess of the SD&G Highlanders. The 59th Battalion mustered 27 officers and 216 men on that occasion.

The Dunvegan Company was immediately put to work guarding vital points along the Cornwall Canal. On May 31st, the scare was over and the troops were released to return home. Dr McDiarmid remained with the militia until 1884, by which time he had been promoted to Major. In 1885, the former Commanding Officer of the 59th Stormont and Glengarry Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Darcy Bergin MD was appointed to the new position of Surgeon-General for the North West Campaign. It was at this time that the Canadian Military Medical Services were born. Other Glengarrians who served during the North West Rebellion included Sir Donald Alexander Macdonald, who became Quartermaster General for the Canadian Army and a Major General. He was joined by George Sandfield Macdonald, who was studying in Toronto, a Private in the Queens Own Rifles.

The outbreak of the war in South Africa in October 1899 became the next military issue to capture the attention of residents of the young country. Of the 8,400 Canadian who served in the Boer War, ten soldiers volunteered from Glengarry County.

In May 1900, militia Battalions became known as Regiments. The 59th Battalion became the Stormont and Glengarry Regiment. All was not plain sailing for the new Regiment, for in June 1904, a Militia Order was published: The formation of a regiment of infantry with two companies as a nucleus, in the County of Glengarry, Military District No, 4 and to be designated the “Glengarry Highlanders” is authorised.

The sponsor of new unit was J.A.Macdonell (Greenfield). It was the intention that the Regiment should be officered by the landed gentry and professional class, as had been the custom in the days of Governor Simcoe in 1792. The new Regiment would be clad in the Clan Ranald kilt. One officer in the 59th who expressed interest in the new regiment was told he could only join as a soldier, because commissions were reserved for gentlemen! The phantom regiment remained on the Militia List until 1908 and then disappeared.

In 1910, Lieutenant Colonel AGF Macdonald was appointed to command the Stormont and Glengarry Regiment. Within days of his promotion, the “Colonel” started to lobby the Minister of Militia and Defence for an Armoury to be built in Alexandria to house the headquarters of the Regiment. Only with the election of the Conservatives in 1911 and his friendship with the Minister, Sam Hughes, was the “Colonel” able to show progress. The citizens of Alexandria subscribed for the purchase of the land and the new Armoury was opened in 1914. Not only did it house the HQ of the Stormont and Glengarry Regiment, but “C” Squadron of Princess Louise Dragoon Guards.

A new chapter in in Glengarry’s military heritage was about to open creating a whole new set of heroes and veterans. Canadians answered the clarion call of Britain and the Empire.

Robin Flockton January 18, 2015 Sources: Dictionary of Glengarry Biography by Royce MacGillivray.

	A History of Glengarry by Royce MacGillivray and Ewan Ross
	Up The Glens: History of the SD&G Highlanders.
	A Military History of Canada by Desmond Morton.
              History of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry by JG Harkness.
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