Fenian Raids
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A Rare Fenian Raid Medal
Goes to Auction

The Fenian threat from south of the border in the mid 1860s was not trivial. Indeed, this was one of several major factors in the creation of a united Canada in 1867. The Fenians were hardened Irish-American Civil War veterans bent on achieving independence for Ireland. A faction of Fenians made several attempts to seize Canada for use as their home base.

The Fenian threat was taken very seriously in Scarborough. The Scarboro Rifle Company served at the Niagara frontier in defence of the Province in 1866. They usually drilled in Scarboro Village, a mile and a half from the home of Robert McCowan Sn.

Proper recognition for service was long-overdue by 1901 and the Province finally passed Legislation granting 160 acres to each veteran of the Fenian Raid.

Private William McCowan, farmer in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba, in 1901, had enlisted in the Scarboro Rifle Company in 1863 or 1864. He spent "Four months at Niagara in 1865 from Jan. 1. Two and one half months at Dunville in 1866 from beginning of March. June 2 1866 in the field at Fenian Raid at Fort Erie and Port Colborne one and one half months." His land grant was for the south half of lot 8, Concession 6, Bowman Township.

His young cousin, Private James Archibald McCowan, was born on March 19 1850, eldest son of Robert and Jane McCowan. His land grant was for the north half of lot 1, Concession 5, Beck Township.


Jim McCowan
War Veteran at 16, 1866

The men have cut down a maple in the bush down by the lake, and they found a bees nest in it, and I had to extract the honey from the comb. And with what they ate, there would easily be ten pounds. They said about three quarters of the cells were empty. It would have been quite a find last fall, only I suppose they would have had to fight the bees. Ashley said the nest was about four feet long...We heard last week that Uncle Jim McCowan has a new son, isn’t that the limit?

Ruth McCowan Letters, March 24 1918

We were studying the Fenian Raids, and I put up my hand and said "My Daddy fought in that war". The teacher said I had to be lying and kept me in after school. When he insisted that I apologize, I said I couldn’t do that because I really was telling the truth. I suggested that he come home and see my Mother. We just lived a block from the school. The teacher came along and I explained to mother that my teacher didn’t believe my Daddy had fought in the Fenian war. Mother looked around the open door and said, "do you want to see his discharge papers?" That settled it.

Norman McCowan, (b. 1918 when his father was 68 years old)
From James McCowan Family: From 1833, by Margaret Heron Carr

Enormous Community Support
For War Veterans, 1900

Grand old Township of Scarboro Turns out to Honor the Veterans of ’66 and Present them with Medals. Dr. Parkin delivers a stirring speech. The Passion of the Nation Aroused... Today the medals were presented to the surviving veterans of the Fenian Raid in the Mammoth Hall of Malvern... the proceedings showed that the people of the district, when they take up anything, know how to make it an unqualified success. Mammoth Hall seats over 400 people and every seat was occupied...

Feb. 14, 1900, news clipping in the Fanny Annis Scrapbook


Application for Grant of Land
Fenian Raid, Feb 18 1903

1. a) Rank of Applicant at time of service and name in full: James Archibald McCowan

     b) Present residence and post office address: Keewatin, Ontario

     c) Occupation: Mechanical Engineer

2. Time and Place of Enlistment: Township of Scarboro, Riding of East York, Ontario, in the month of May 1866

3. Name of corps or independent company, battery or squadron: Scarboro Rifle

4. Name and rank of Commanding Officer: Norris, Captain

5. Period (and place) during which active service was performed: 1866; Fort Erie and Port Colborne, Ont.

        Applications for Grant of Land, Fenian Raid, Ontario Archives, RG1 C-VII-2

Private McCowan's Fenian Raid Medal will be auctioned on Oct. 30 2004.


    The McCowans' Who's Who  V12
    The Scarboro Heights Record  V12 #10