The following description of Bertie Township and its
villages is quoted from the Illustrated
Historical Atlas of the Counties of Lincoln and Welland, Ont. Toronto: H.R. Page
& Co., 1876.
This Township was first settled in the year 1784 by U. E. Loyalists and others from the American colonies, and during the war of 1812-15, its territory was the scene of many contests between the Canadians and Americans which we have elsewhere described. The soil is well adapted to raising wheat, oats, barley and other crops, and the township has some fine public schools and churches belonging to various religious denominations, while the well cultivated farms denote a thrifty and progressive people. The township contains about thirty-eight thousand three hundred and ninety acres.
The invasion of Canada by a force of Fenians—the events of which occurred in Bertie—and the skirmish which took place between them and the Canadian Volunteers, on the 2nd June, 1866, is still fresh in the memory of many of our citizens who took part in the affair. The Fenians for months had been holding meetings throughout the United States, and the most of them were veteran soldiers who had lately been discharged from the U. S. army.
During the month of May the excitement which had been raised by the Fenians had greatly subsided and the people of Canada had given up the idea that the Fenians had meant to invade their soil, but this feeling was soon terminated by the news the Fenian organization throughout the U. S. had suddenly shown unusual activity on their part, which was followed by several hundred of them on the last night of May crossing the Niagara River, near Black Rock, into Canada, fully equipped with muskets and ammunition. The Canadian authorities showed great zeal in getting their forces to the front, and the second of June found the volunteer forces consisting of the 13th Battalion and the Queen’s Own near Ridgeway, where they had been brought by special trains, and Colonel Peacock’s Brigade was near Chippawa.
Ammunition was here given to the volunteers, and their arms were loaded with ball cartridges, after which the Queen’s Own headed by their band playing a lively air and followed by the 13th Battalion, and a company of the York Rangers, with ammunition, wagons, etc., commenced to march in an easterly direction expecting to meet Col. Peacock’s Brigade, when joining forces they would moved against the Fenians. This however they were unable to accomplish be fore meeting the enemy face to face, and after the execution of a series of movements in preparation for the fray, the order was given to the line by a bugler to “fire and advance,” and then the fight began.
The line opened independent fire in a lively manner, and the enemy, as soon as he had collected his senses, returned the compliment with vengeance. The firing was kept up pretty steadily for fifteen or twenty minutes, our line having advanced across a couple of fields.
It was plainly to be seen from the start that the enemy by far outnumbered us; was disciplined in the kind of warfare he was engaged in, and was composed of a hardened and desperate class of men. It was well known that the Fenian army consisted chiefly of old soldiers collected together out of recently disbanded regiments of the U. S. army, and, although it was looked upon over there as a rabble, yet they were not just the pleasantest sort of people to meet on an occasion of this kind. They were well armed, and had plenty of ammunition. We found a number of rifles, a few officer’s swords, and various other articles of a like nature, scattered over their late camping ground.
The fire had now continued over an hour or more; we had lost three or four dead and wounded, and had advanced about a mile under fire when the report “ammunition expended” came from the front. On company of the Queen’s Own had been armed with repeating rifles, which were capable of discharging twelve shots per minute, and it was this one company which had sent back the report. The reserve was immediately ordered to the relief. The 13th doubled up in splendid style, and quickly took up the ground occupied by the Queen’s Own, the right wing, comprising companies 1, 2 and 3, relieving the skirkishers, and the left wing—companies 4, 5 and 6 the supports.
The Queen’s Own doubled into close column, fell back and took up position in reserve half-a-mile in rear, where the party in charge of our colors was located. The company of “Rangers” doubled out to the extreme left while the company was peppering away on the extreme right. These changes were, of course, executed without interrupting the fire, and the new line went to work like men. Field after field was crossed, and the only available shelter our boys could have against the enemy’s bullets, was an occasional rail fence.
The main body of the Fenians had by this time gained the woods, which were now but a short distance to the right of the road, and continued to fire and fall back under cover of the trees, having left some of their dead in the fields behind. A portion of the Fenians had entrenched themselves behind a frame house, a barn, a pig-sty and stone fence, and were making a desperate stand to maintain their ground.
The firing now became hotter than ever, and the excitement for a time was intense; several of our men were wounded here. The Fenians were finally driven from their stronghold and amid a loud hurrah from our side, rushed off to join their friends. They kept up the fire, and their bullets cam whacking against our apple trees and among the limbs, dropping the leaves like an autumn frost.
The day had grown insufferably hot, and not a drop of water could be had to quench the burning thirst. The fighting continued however, and the wood in front and on the right was alive with Fenians. From the enemy’s fire we discovered that we had advanced to rapidly and although the highland company had been working like Trojans all the morning, still the woods on the right had not been thoroughly cleaner out as the line advanced. This was about the position of things when about noon that fatal order was given, “retire from square, and prepare for cavalry.” The order sounded a third time before the left of the line acted upon it, when No. 3 company executed the command on its own ground.
We had been standing about five or six minutes when a terrible volley was heard behind, in the direction of the reserve. Soon after No. 3 doubled through the orchard, up the hill and around in front of the house where we were struck dumb with amazement. The wildest excitement prevailed. Far down the road, in the fields, everywhere we could see our boys falling back in the utmost disorder. The reserve had formed a solid square in obedience to orders, and the enemy in the woods nearby, having understood our bugle call, immediately rallied and fired a volley of bullets into the solid body.
Four or five brave fellows of the Queen’s Own dropped dead at the feet of their comrades. The only safety was in separation, and the quickest way to separate was to break ranks. A panic set in, which soon became universal. A few minutes later the whole force was scattered and moving back towards Ridgeway. During this affray seven or eight of the Canadians were killed, and twelve or fourteen wounded, while the Fenians had fifteen or sixteen killed, and upwards of that number wounded. The Fenians with the greatest possible haste made their way across the river, though a number were taken prisoners, some of whom are at the present time serving a term in the Penitentiary for the part they took in the invasion.
Ridgeway in the southern part of the township, is a thriving village of about eight hundred inhabitants. It has three hotels, and about twenty stores of different kinds; it is situated upon the Buffalo and Goderich division of the G. T. Railway.
Fort Erie is an incorporated village in the south east part of the Township of Bertie, and dates its first settlement back to 1784. During the war of 1812, Fort Erie was the scene of many conflicts between the Canadians and Americans, and the settlers in the vicinity in most instances lost all their property which could be burnt or otherwise destroyed. In mentioning some of the occurrences which took place at Fort Erie and its immediate vicinity, a writer says—
“On the 9th of October 1812, the armed brig Detroit, which had been a short time previously at Detroit, and the brig Caledonia, laden with furs belonging to the North-west Company, which had arrived the day before with American prisoners, were boarded opposite Fort Erie, by a large party of the enemy; they succeeded in cutting out the vessels, which drifted towards the American shore. The Caledonian grounded at Black Rock, and the Detroit upon Squaw Island. The crews after a sever contest were made prisoners. At night a party of men from Fort Erie succeeded in boarding the Detroit and blowing her up.”
On the morning of the 28th November, the Americans effected a landing on the British side, at the upper end of Grand Island, between Fort Erie and Chippawa. Their force consisted of fourteen boats, containing about thirty men each, who were met by Lieutenant King of the Royal Artillery, and Lieutenants Lamont and Bartley, with a detachment of the Forty-ninth, amounting to sixty-five men. Lieutenants King and Lamont were wounded, and their small force being opposed by superior numbers, was compelled to give way; previous to which, however, they managed to spike the guns as to render them useless to the enemy. Lieutenants King and Lamont, with about thirty men were taken prisoners, and sent across the river.
Lieutenant Bartley in the meantime, after a resistance which reduced his force to seventeen men, was compelled to retreat. The boats, on their return to the American side, left Captain King, aid-de-camp to the American General, with a few officers and about forty men on the British side, who, being pursued down the shore of the river by Major Ormsby, from Fort Erie, were speedily made prisoners. At about seven o’clock in the morning another division of eighteen boats was seen advancing to effect a landing two miles lower down the river.
Colonel Bishop, having upon the first alarm moved up from Chippawa, formed a junction with Major Ormsby, and having now a force of nearly eleven hundred men, consisting of detachments of the forty-first, forty ninth and Royal Newfoundland regiments, with a body of militia under Lieutenant Colonel Clark and Major Hall, and some Indians, waited the approach of the enemy. A steady and effectual fire was opened upon them both from musketry and a six pounder, which destroyed two if their boats, threw the remainder in confusion and compelled them to take flight.
The enemy during part of the day made a display of their force on their own side of the river, but perceiving that the British troops had unspiked and removed the guns which had fallen into their hands in the morning, which they had not taken the precaution of removing or sinking in the river as they might have done, they, with the view of gaining time to effect a retreat, sent over a flag to Colonel Bishop, to demand the surrender of Fort Erie, but were told to “come and take it,” an enterprise which they were not inclined to attempt.
Other fights occurred here which at different times resulted in much loss of life and destruction of property.
At the present time the village of Fort Erie is a pleasantly situated place of about twelve hundred people, and has railway communications by way of the Canada Southern, Great Western Air Line and the Grand Trunk Railway; it also has a ferry across the Niagara River to Buffalo. The village has several churches and common schools and does a good local trade with the surrounding townships.
Mr. Thomas Kennedy, a resident of the Township of Bertie, deserves great credit for the interest he has taken in the temperance cause, and in the welfare of his fellow townsmen. Mr. Kennedy at an expense of about one thousand dollars, erected a temperance hall upon a piece of ground which he owned, and then donated both the hall and lot to the township. All honor should be given to a person who is generous enough to give his fellow men such a practical proof of his desire to benefit them.
Editor’s Note: This name was short lived, becoming known as Bridgeburg until amalgamated into the town of Fort Erie. It takes in the railway lands along present Lewis Street and the business district along Jarvis and Dufferin Streets.
Victoria, the name of the new Town claiming public attention is situated at the at the west end of the International Iron Bridge, which spans the Niagara River opposite Buffalo. This bridge, one of the handsomest structures on the continent, has its west end station on a portion of the town plot of Victoria, which is likewise the terminus of the Grand Trunk, Great Western Air Line, and Canada Southern Railways, whose stations are upon and adjoin it. It has a large frontage on the Niagara River, and possesses all the advantages of the unlimited water power of that noble river, as well as its harbor and dock accommodation.
It is contemplated that Victoria will, by means of this bridge become a suburb of Buffalo. Its elevated situation, beautiful surrounding scenery, pure air, cheap living, and freedom from city taxation will render it a most desirable place of residence. The extensive works connected with these railway stations and necessary machine and work shops, will afford constant employment for numbers of men, who will likewise have the advantage of work in the large iron and other factories on the opposite (American side) of the river. The centre of the city of Buffalo can be reached in a few minutes by regular trains and street cars.
Victoria has already good hotels, stores and neat cottages. A glance at its situation, railway and water shipping accommodation, demonstrates it as a point possessing unsurpassed facilities for all classes of manufacturing and mercantile business.
Its proximity to Buffalo gives Victoria the advantage of the trade of that great and growing city and its surrounding towns. The founder and proprietor of the place, Mr. S. M. Jarvis, Barrister, Toronto, is devoting his time and means energetically to its development, and a prosperous future may be fairly predicted for it.
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