by Lorraine Payette, written August 15, 2013
(GANANOQUE, ONTARIO) Winter and early spring of 1813 were cold and miserable. The War of 1812 was on, and troops mustered all along the St. Lawrence to defend the Canadas from American invasion. And among those troops were the 104th Regiment of Foot from New Brunswick.
Channel Island of Jersey native Lieutenant John LeCouteur, then 17-years-old and a graduate of the relatively new Royal Military College, came over from England to participate in the War in Canada. An eloquent, charming and often humourous writer, he recalled his time with the 104th Regiment of Foot when he wrote his memoires, which have been preserved for posterity in the book, “Merry Hearts Make Light Days” (edited by Donald E. Graves).
They started from Fredericton, NB, on February 16, 1813, with some detachments having already come a hundred miles to join them. Spirits were high, the mood light as they sang “The Girls We Leave Behind Us”. Sadly, many of these soldiers never saw home – let alone wives, sweethearts, mothers or sisters – again.
“The company presented a most unmilitary appearance as it marched without arms or knapsacks, in Indian file, divided into squads, so many to each Toboggan, the rear of it being nearly half a mile from the front..,” LeCouteur recalled.
Deep snow created unexpected hazards – a man falling on the trail could cause as much as a ten minute delay in the march. Road breaking was tedious, and done in turns, with snowshoes tramping the snow flat and firm in order for the troops to march carefully over it single file.
The cold also took its toll, and the small huts they were able to erect as shelters when houses and barns became unavailable, were but small comfort to them.
“On the morning of the 5th the cold had greatly augmented and the thermometer once more fell to 27 degrees below zero, together with a gale, a north-wester in our teeth, which scarcely left us power to breathe …,” wrote LeCouteur.
They arrived in Quebec City on March 15, 1813, where they were able to rest for ten days prior to going on another 200 miles to Montreal, then yet another 200 miles to Kingston. Many were lost along the way to frostbite and exposure as well as the other ills so common at the time.
This incredible march was re-enacted in 2013 by relay teams walking the route from Fredericton to Kingston. Costumed re-enactors often joined the various military groups as the regimental flag was handed off in each stopping point along the trail.
To make the memory more permanent, La Société culturelle Saint-Basile (New Brunswick) responded to an invitation by the Société historique du Madawaska (Maine) to create a series of paintings about the historic March. Ten artists from Edmundston, Saint-Basile and Madawaska rose to the challenge, attending a special presentation at the Musée du Madawaska and do their own personal research into the trek before creating their own works commemorating the event.
This collection of paintings is now on tour throughout Canada, and gives a visual representation of what it may have been like to endure such a difficult march. The Arthur Child Museum in Gananoque has been honoured with the chance to display these works.
Each painting is a unique view of the experience. Jean Pelletier’s “To Brave Out Winter, the Distance and Time” gives a feel of how cold and miserable it must have been going on mile after mile toward a destination they weren’t even sure of knowing, while George S. Pérusse depicts unexpected beauty along the way in “Magnificent Grand Falls”.
“In early July we received the 10 paintings created by 10 New Brunswick artists based on the writings in the journal kept by the Commander of the 104th of Foot regiment which left New Brunswick in February 1813 and made their way to Kingston to bolster the troops here,” said Linda Mainse, Executive Director at the Arthur Child Heritage Museum. “Each artist chose an event from the journal as the focus of a painting.”
The Arthur Child Museum is located at 125 Water Street in Gananoque and is open from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. daily. They may be found on-line at http://www.1000islandsheritagemuseum.com/ .