Articles d'histoire / History Articles, etc.
WHEN HISTORY HANGS BY A THREAD
by Mary Anne Ducharme
An old flag, a hand-made regimental colour, was bestowed upon the Canadian Historical Society in 2003, with large sections missing or in shreds. Realizing its fragile state, the Society gave the flag to the Canadian War Museum (CWM) in Ottawa in the hope of restoration. Its significance was not lost to Eric Fernberg, the collection manager of dress and insignia at the CWM: it represents an early nineteenth century militia unit connected with the Lower Canada Rebellion (1837-1838) and is one of the first flags to bear the monogram of Queen Victoria, who was then 18 and officially crowned in 1838.
The flag’s design and stitchwork was intricately embroidered by a Mrs. Gilchrist from Montreal, including the monogram on a royal blue field. The design included the Queen’s Colours in the upper left hand corner and the words “Presented by the ladies to the Hemmingford Loyal Volunteers Com.d by Lieu. Col. Scriver.” Scriver had been given the commission of Lieutenant-Colonel by the recommendation of Sir John Colborne, Commander of British forces in Canada, who personally thanked him for his role in the assisting the Regular forces. Scriver was also presented with a sword and scabbard by the Hemmingford Loyal Volunteers as a token of respect and esteem.
John Peter Scriver (1792-1873) was one man among the thousands from Canada invading Plattsburgh in 1814 and he also was one of the sharpshooters at Île-aux-Noix when the American sloops Growler and Eagle were captured. The son of Loyalists from Rhinebeck, New York, he was known by the sobriquet of “Colonel” and was a key force in developing the community of Hemmingford just north of the border. A man of great energy and leadership ability, he touched almost every aspect of early development in the Hemmingford area.
As a Major in the Hemmingford Loyal Volunteers, Scriver was also involved in what would be known as the Lower Canada Rebellion in its final confrontations. This conflict between Loyalists and Patriotes threatened British control of Canada, partly the result of an economic panic that gripped American, British and Canadian banking. Even more important was cultural conflict between French Canadians and the British-dominated government, as well as lack of response to the urgent need for land reforms. Rebel rhetoric echoed the spirit of self-determination that then remained in living memory from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
Not surprisingly, Americans along the border played an illegal but significant role in the Rebellions in both Upper and Lower Canada in the form of support of the Patriote insurgents. Despite Martin Van Buren’s Neutrality Law of 1838, secret societies provided arms, vehicles and supplies which flowed across the border along with armed men.
The restoration of the 1838 flag at the Canadian Museum of Civilization was questionable despite its recognized value. It had been technically risky or prohibitively expensive to restore textiles such as the silky fabric of the Hemmingford Colours.
Enter the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, who were looking at the time for a significant project to fund. The Friends provided the funding and the War Museum then approached conservators Julie Hughes and Megan Gruchy at its partner museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, to undertake the actual restoration of the Regimental Colour and a second flag, the Queen’s Colour, known by some as "The Union Jack". The Jack was used by the Hemmingford Loyal Volunteers during the Lower Canada Rebellion.
Hughes and Gruchy came up with an innovative technique that has received not only Canadian attention, but international notice as well. The printing of the digital image of the flag with UV-cured ink on silk crêpeline produced extremely impressive results, an innovation the conservators are now applying to the next project, a Union Jack also related to the Hemmingford Loyal Volunteers. The restoration required a number of steps, as described by Julie Hughes:
“First, the shredded original flag was removed from the netting support on which it had been sewn for stabilization in the past. Next, the creases in the flag were relaxed using conservation humidification techniques. Then new silk fabric was dyed to match the various areas of the flag. This dyed fabric was stitched onto the display mount (a rigid mount, padded and covered also with white silk), according to the original dimensions of the flag. The original flag was then placed on top of the dyed backing fabrics on the mount, so that it looked like a ‘whole’ flag again, and a digital photo was taken. This digital image was taken to a professional printing company, and printed on transparent silk crêpeline, a material similar to chiffon fabric. The crêpeline with the printed image of the flag was placed over the flag on its display mount. The crêpeline overlay was then stitched down meticulously along the seams and around the fragments of the flag. Finally, a Plexiglas cover was fitted which lightly pressed down on the finished flag, further keeping everything in place. The crêpeline overlay thus served both to stabilize the fragmented original flag, and to act as a barrier between the flag and the Plexiglas cover.”
Webmaster's note: These are some links that refer to the above flag and the Lower Canada Rebellion:
The 1838 flag - photos and more details on this story.
Robert Sellar’s account of the 1838 Odelltown battles - from Sellar's History.
I found this inscription after photographing the Douglass Cemetery, near Napierville. The inscription was enhanced for legibility.
Includes other links to the history of the Lower Canada Rebellion.
Lower Canada Rebellion - Wikipedia
La Rébellion des Patriotes - Wikipedia (français)