Rise at 5am, breakfast, drills, dinner, drills, tea, drills, lights out 10:15pm. Such was the routine of life while in militia camp in the 1880s and 1890s. A cursory glance might suggest days of drudgery but a dip below the surface tells a different story. The rural militia camps were not held every year and, when held, moved around the militia district, usually taking place in June following the planting of crops.
Lieutenant-Colonel Gregor Mattice, who had served in the Fenian Raids, was serving as the Brigade Major when camp was held in Sherbrooke in 1888. His brigade orders and the military reports provided to Parliament by Lieutenant-Colonel C.F. Houghton give us a picture of what went on during the ten days of camp. Finding an appropriate location for the more than 1,000 men and accompanying horses for the cavalry troops was no small feat and the Sherbrooke location, “beautifully situated” on the east side of the St. Francis River, was decidedly inadequate. The flattest part of the location had to be used for the tents, leaving only uneven and rough ground for drilling, which made battalion movements impossible.
From reports and the logbook entries, it was important to the organizers that the surrounding community came away with good impressions of militia camp and the soldiers. Efforts were made to ensure that the camp grounds were left clean, that bathing men were kept discreetly away from passersby, and that they were generally well-behaved while in camp. In turn, locals benefited from the camp with contracts for things like supplying the bread the men received as part of their rations. In the case of the 1888 Sherbrooke camp, the YMCA supported the men by providing free ice water, writing supplies, and reading materials.
Even though the men seem to have behaved themselves appropriately for the duration of the 1888 camp, it was not entirely without trouble. Private Donald McKay, reportedly only 16 years old at the time, of the Lake Megantic company of the 58th Compton Battalion drowned in the St. Francis River, even after swimming had been banned (except in small groups with special permission and supervision) following the recent drowning of private from the 53rd Battalion only a few days before camp began.
Despite the sad incident, the camp carried on with their scheduled activities, which included daily parades and band playing hours, and sports games as part of Dominion Day celebrations.
Last spring, the ETRC received the militia camp logbook for three camps in the Townships that were held between 1888 and 1895. The logbook is available in its entirety online for those who would like to take some time to step back into a part of our military past: https://www.townshipsarchives.ca/military-camp-log-book (click on the image of the cover to read the logbook).
Contributed by Allisha Hampton Pettigrew, Bishop’s University History student
Danville owes its beginnings to Simeon Flint who settled in the area in 1807 and named the town “Danville” after his former home in New England: Danville, Vermont. Early on, this rural town relied on various mills such as sawmills and potato farms to provide work for the people living there. Other industries were gradually established, such as like the furniture maker, James Boutelle, the Dominion Clothes Pin Company, as well as the Danville Chair Specialty Company, which was founded in 1910 and offered work to over 80 people.
At the turn of the century, Danville saw the rise in mining for asbestos in the next town over. As a result, Danville shifted to a residential area for many miners could live and the town square was home to many small shops where people could bustle in and out of, similar to how it is today.
Even though most of those living in Danville today travel to other towns nearby for work or are farmers, the Square and surrounding commercial area remain a core part of the community. Every autumn, the town has an art symposium where many local artists set up their artwork in buildings throughout the town for people to come visit. It provides a great way for the artists to become known throughout the town and surrounding areas.
The Danville Square is now home to small local stores and restaurants and La Mante du Carré is a café that also acts as public market where local artisans may sell their products, such as fruits and vegetables from local farms, bread, honey, pottery, plants and so many other items. The Danville Square has changed and adapted over the years to benefit the people of the town but the square still remains the heart of the town.
On the edge of the square in Danville is Trinity United Church. It was built in 1875 and remains as one of the oldest churches in Danville. There have been numerous churches in Danville: the Presbyterian church no longer in practice has been turned into a restaurant, Le Temps des Cerises, and the Adventist church was turned into a private home. Trinity United Church however is still in operation.
The Congregational minister Ammi J. Parker held the first services at the school and, in 1836, a Congregational church was built on the very same spot as the present location of Trinity United Church. In 1875, the church was rebuilt and is the same one that currently stands there to this day. Trinity United Church’s steeple is one that is easily recognized within the town and the surrounding areas; it sticks out above the other buildings and the structure has remained the same as it was when it was first built.
Trinity United Church’s activities have also remained mostly the same. The Church hosts a Sunday School where children from the area may come to learn more about the religion. The Church also hosts a number of different activities for its members and the community such as suppers, games of military whist and a Christmas play. Despite a mostly French population in the area, there is still a wide English following within the Church. English and French people from Danville and surrounding areas attend the services. Since Danville is home to quite a few churches, church bells can be heard ringing throughout the town. The steadfast presence of Trinity United Church as well as its activities serve as a comfort within a world that is always moving.