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Troops to Paris in 1866
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Troops to Paris

In the 1860s, one of the concerns of Canadians was the Fenians. This group of men of Irish descent or sympathies were gathering across the border on American soil and there were sincere concerns that they would invade Canada.

In March 1866, because of genuine fears, the government mobilized a portion of the volunteer militia. One of the exciting events in Paris was, over 200 militiamen gathering from the neighbouring communities to defend Canada. Paris at that time was at the junction of the Hamilton to Windsor and Buffalo to Goderich railway lines and it was a strategic advantage to have the troops stationed at Paris. Whatever direction an attack came from troops could be dispatched immediately in that direction by trains that were waiting with boilers fully stoked.

The Daily Globe reported, “200 Men Concentrated at Paris...Orders were also received yesterday to concentrate troops at St. Catharines and Paris...” At various times during the Fenian crisis different troops were stationed at Paris. From March 8th to March 31st, the Paris & Drumbo Rifles and the Seaforth & Princeton Infantry companies were stationed at Paris. These companies were billeted at hotels or private homes. They drilled daily, did garrison duties and provided security for the bridge, telegraph line and reserve base.

After the Fenian Raid at Fort Erie on June 1st, troop build-ups again began in Paris. Several companies of British Regulars stationed at London plus five London companies, two Woodstock companies, and the Princeton and Drumbo companies left for Paris shortly after 11 p.m. They were unable to proceed from Paris to Ridgeway immediately and spent the night there. It must have been a time of great excitement at Paris that night with 500 to 600 young men trying to sleep yet charged with adrenaline fully expecting to be engaged in a battle for Canada the following day.

We can understand a little of what was going on in Paris at that time from the story of a correspondent who passed through Paris as he was making his way to Buffalo.His account noted, “On my arrival there (Paris) I found some five hundred brave Canadian volunteers waiting, with engine steamed up to proceed wherever their services were most needed.” The troops left for the front the following day and it was reported in the Hamilton Evening Times, “Troops Hurrying to the Front. A force of 600 Volunteers left Paris at 2 P.M. for Port Colborne...”

After the large force had left Paris it was decided that on June 2nd the Mount Pleasant Company would come to Paris to provide security for a temporary reserve base and the telegraph line. On June 8th, all the Volunteer Companies of Norfolk County were ordered to march to Paris. A report of the arrival of the troops in Paris was printed in the Paris Star and noted:

Norfolk Volunteers “On Friday evening last, the Simcoe Volunteer Rifle Company arrived in this town. The Company numbered about 67. One of the best brass bands we have seen for some time belongs to the Company, who played as they marched into town. They are a very fine looking body of men and seem to be well up in their drill. About 10 o’clock the same evening the Norfolk No. 1 Rifle Company from Villa Nova marched into town. They are also a fine looking body of men and from their appearance we should say they would render a good account of themselves should their services be required in the field to meet the Fenians. The Company number 45 men. On Sunday afternoon the Walsingham Rifles numbering 39 men, came into town. On the same afternoon the Port Rowan Rifle Company also marched into town. They number 57 men. The two latter companies are fine looking fellows. The men are billeted in taverns and private houses…Major Patton is in command of the Battalion, and Lieutenant Baird acts as Adjutant. The men are drilled twice a day - once in company, and once in battalion drill.”

This must have been a very exciting time to live in the little Town of Paris. Troops would have been constantly drilling, probably on the flats across from the main street. There would no doubt have been many parades along the main street to instil esprit de corps. The railway bridge would have been guarded 24 hours a day. A wide variety of uniforms with headdress and military regalia would have been seen on the streets. All of the hotels and many of the stores, public buildings and homes would have been used to billet troops. The martial Spirit was very active in Paris at this time. A record that was matched in many of the conflicts of future generations.

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