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Saskatchewan Rebellion, 1885, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

The Saskatchewan Rebellion, 1885

The militia of Victoria County have seen active service on three occasions, viz.: in the Saskatchewan or Second Riel Rebellion of 1885, in the Boer War, and in the World War of 1914-18.

The Saskatchewan Rebellion was the result of sheer stupidity on the part of the Canadian government. The Northwest Territories had been taken over from the Hudson Bay Company in 1870, and the Canadian Pacific Railway had been begun in the early eighties. The half-breeds or Metis along the Saskatchewan River asked that they be given a legal title to the land which they occupied. The government admitted the justice and reasonableness of this request but with criminal inertia allowed the matter to go unheeded, in spite of urgent solicitation by the North West Council and others who saw the rising storm.

At last the tempest broke. The half-breeds found that constitutional agitation was hopeless and began open hostilities. On March 26th, under Louis Riel, the outlawed leader of a similar rebellion in Manitoba in 1870, and Gabriel Dumont, a resourceful half-breed they defeated a detachment of Mounted Police at Duck Lake, killing twelve and wounding twenty-five. Two Indian chiefs, Poundmaker and Big Bear, at once went on the warpath, the former near Battle ford and the latter at Frog Lake and Fort Pitt, farther to the northwest.

The solons at Ottawa now awoke at last and ordered the mobilization of a punitive force. Part of the contingent thus called out was a "Midland Battalion" of infantry, consisting of two companies from the 46th Militia Regt., and one each from the 15th, 45th, 47th, 49th, and 57th Regiments. The Officer Commanding this unit was Lt. Col. A. T. Williams, of Port Hope; the Senior Major was H. R. Smith, of Port Hope; and the Junior Major Colonel Deacon, of Lindsay.

Personnel of the 45th detachment from Lindsay and the surrounding district

On April 1, 1885, these troops left Lindsay to report at Kingston. Five days later the Midland Battalion, mustering 363 men and 34 officers, entrained at Kingston for the scene of action. The section of the C.P.R. lying to the north of Lake Superior was not yet complete, and on April 12th the battalion marched twenty miles in a blinding snow storm across the ice of Lake Superior to cover a gap in railway service. They reached Winnipeg on the 14th and went into camp at Swift Current on the 15th. General Middleton, the Commander-in-chief in the North-West, now had a force of 4,380 infantry, 650 cavalry, and 300 artillery. He divided this force into three columns. The first was to march under his own command to attack Riel and Dumont at their headquarters at Batoche. The second, under Lieut. Colonel W. D. Otter, attacked Poundmaker near Battleford. The third, under Major-Gen. Strange, marched from Calgary towards Edmonton, near which Big Bear was supposed to be encamped.

Lindsay Soldiers Lead Batoche Charge

By the time the Midland Battalion arrived at Swift Current, General Middleton's column had already set out and had been severely singed by an ambush at Fish Creek. The Midland Battalion came down the river on the steamer Northcote and joined Middleton on May 5th. Four days later they faced the rebel position at Batoche. Here the enemy had established a strong line of rifle pits across a scrubby ravine. Two days were spent in ineffectual skirmishing. On the afternoon of the 11th of May the force was brought out again, with orders to skirmish and snipe but not to charge the enemy's position. The troops were greatly exasperated by such warfare, however, and as soon as they got into touch with the enemy "C." Company (the Lindsay volunteers) of the Midland Battalion launched a charge against the rifle pits. They were at once supported by their comrades and by the Grenadiers of Toronto, and swept down the ravine through the dense, scraggy underbrush. General Middleton accepted the situation and ordered all the rest of his force into action. Batoche village was soon captured and the backbone of the rebellion broken. Riel was taken prisoner on May 22nd, and Dumont fled to the States.

Meanwhile Colonel Otter's column had accepted heavy losses in an attack on Poundmaker at Cut Knife Hill on May 2nd. The object of this attack had been to prevent a junction of the forces of Poundmaker and Big Bear and their combined march to Batoche. At the cost of eight killed and thirteen wounded, Otter achieved this objective. Poundmaker thereafter remained inactive and soon surrendered to the joint forces of Otter and Middleton.

General Strange, with his third column, the Alberta Field Force, was unable to come to grips with Big Bear, but succeeded in keeping that chief so continually on the move that he at last repented of his hostilities and gave himself up.

The net results of the rebellion were that the half-breeds received all that they had originally sought and that Canada paid $5,000,000 for a campaign brought on by the stupidity of her politicians.

Military Annals

Victoria County

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