Thursday 4 December 2014

A March Down Yonge Street: Archives and the Upper Canada Rebellion

At the archives we have the privilege of interacting with historical events through the documents we care for. Books tell us the broad details of history, but letters and photographs tell us how those events affected individuals.

For example, we have several documents that relate to the Upper Canada Rebellion. In 1837, a group of prominent gentlemen who did not like the way that Upper Canada was being administered decided to stage an armed takeover. On December 5th, a group of approximately 700 rebels marched south on Yonge Street from Montgomery's Tavern, which was located at the site of present-day Postal Station K, at the corner of Yonge and Eglinton. They were met and quickly turned back by a group of loyalists. A few days later, a loyalist force dispersed the rebels from the tavern.

We don't know the context of the below document, but for some reason, Bishop MacDonell received certification that Edmund Barnet served with the loyalist force and was injured. Perhaps he was an employee of the Bishop?

"I hereby certify that Edmund Barnett served as a volunteer at my gun on Yonge Street during that attack against the Rebels at Montgomery's on the 7th December last; that he is an excellent soldier; and I have every reason to believe he sustained a severe injury in the leg on the above occasion, having been jammed between the timber of the gun and the gun carriage. [Signed] James Leckie, Captain"

As we have seen in past posts, it was common for people to write to bishops for intercession on behalf of loved ones in different situations:

"My Lord, Under other circumstances I would feel some hesitation in troubling your Lordship, but on the present occasion I have taken the liberty to call your attention to a subject in which I feel particularly interested during the disturbances in December last the Magistrates of the London District found it necessary to confine in the gaol of London many whome they found were not well affected to the British Constitution. Among others a man of the name Alvaro Ladd in whose behalf I fondly hope to interest your Lordship.

"This person I have known since I first came to the London mission and I assure a more moral and uprightly man I have seldom met with. On December last he was torn from his home his wife and children, was thrown into a loathsome prison where he was left to pine as that inclement season under privations not to be mentioned. He was arraigned in March last, for treason. I was present during his trial, was convinced as most of all present were convinced that nothing was elicited during a tedious examination of witnesses to implicate him in the least. And though the judge told the jury that he did not think they could find a verdict for the crown, yet to our great surprise the jury after a short deliberation among themselves returned a verdict for the crown. A verdict which consigns to an ignominious death. An inoffensive man, bereaves a wretched wife of the means of support, and stamps the seal of infamy on the forehead of his children, forever. Though A. Ladd may have no personal claim on your Lordship’s interest, yet he has through another person. A. Ladd my Lord, is the Brother in law of Dennis O’Brien, your Lordship has met him more than once. Your Lordship must also be aware that in the House of D. O’Brien the priests of the London District have always found a house and a home. And I am certain that no priest ever experienced or stood more in need of his attention than I did. And it is for his sake that I interest your Lordship to use your influence and press Sir James McDonell to use his interest in pressing the prayer of the enclosed memorial on the Earl of Durham.

"I remain my Lord with the greatest humility your Lordship’s humble servant, Joseph Maria Burke MA"

"My Lord, Should your lordship succeed in averting from my family a calamity that will forever destroy their peace of mind, I assure your lordship, your charity will not only be not abused but that I will [lose] no opportunity to prove to your Lordship that I can be both sensible and grateful for your Lordship’s kindness. Dennis O’Brien."
Alvaro Ladd, a prominent London area merchant, was involved with a group of rebels who decided to march on Toronto from southwestern Upper Canada. This group was also quickly stopped. Ladd's arrest and trial are described by Colin Read in The Treason Trials of 1838 in Western Upper Canada (pp 106-109) which can be found in the book Canadian State Trials: Rebellion and invasion in the Canadas, 1837-1839, edited by Frank Murray Greenwood and Barry Wright. As explained by Read, Ladd escaped execution.

The University of Western Ontario Archives holds the Dennis O'Brien Fonds. O'Brien was an early merchant in London, and was a supporter of the Catholic Church in that city. He was related to Ladd through his wife's sister, to whom Ladd was married. As a Church benefactor, O'Brien was able to gain the favour of the local Pastor, who advocated for Ladd.

Through these and other documents, we are able to see a small part of  the stories in Canada's history. When combined with documents held by other archives, the story is fleshed out and given life. Like pieces of a mosaic, letters, photographs, and artifacts combine to create a picture of where we have been as a society. It is imperative to preserve these pieces to ensure that the picture remains a clear reflection of the events that made us what we are today.  

No comments:

Post a Comment