Appreciating the Local History

Posted: June 19, 2013 in In Transition, Lifestyle
Tags: , , ,

Warning:  This post might well be classified as one of those “What the fuck does this have to do with triathlon?” posts.  Well, it doesn’t…necessarily.  However, it is as important to me to chronicle this current journey through life as well as the miles and events that I complete each day.  I suggest then that this post then be classified in your mind as “What goes on in the mind of an endurance athlete while training?”

One of my favorite training routes (running or cycling) follows a particular winding route out of town known as Ridge (or ‘Snake’) Road.  From my house to the end of Ridge Rd. is approximately 7.5k, or just enough to serve as a decent tempo distance, or the halfway point for one of my long(ish) runs.  While cycling, it also happens to be part of the quickest way to the scenic Niagara Parkway that runs all the way into and past Niagara Falls and into the equally beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Needless to say, I have become very familiar with this stretch of road; every twist, every turn, every pothole, every tree, every house, every barn, etc.  You get the picture.

Whatever it is, it’s gorgeous.

I am only just beginning to get back into running after approximately a month of dealing with ongoing foot and calf issues, so I have been spending a lot of time in the saddle of my bike lately exploring.  As such, I have become particularly interested in the local history, including all the really cool buildings, barns and farm structures I pass every day; many of which line the entire route of Ridge Road.  I’ve already documented here in this blog that I have strong affinity for old barns (click HERE  to find/scroll through posts to see some of those photos), so this extended interest into their actual history isn’t such a large leap.

As it turns out, Ridge Road also served as a vibrant and important footnote in our local (and national) history as the location for the notorious (yet largely forgotten) ‘Battle of Ridgeway’.  So while I have already become seduced by the beautiful farm houses and barns along this road, I’m just now learning the secrets they have to tell.

Ridgeway marks not only the first battle ever fought on Canadian soil against enemy invaders, but also marks the first modern battle that Canadian’s ever waged and, consequentially, resulted in Canada’s first military casualties.  On June 1, 1866, – that’s exactly  147 years and 18 days ago today – over 1,000 Fenian insurgents invaded Canada across the Niagara River from Buffalo, N.Y.  These Fenians, mostly battle-hardened Civil War veterans, were hell bent on driving the British out of Ireland by taking Canada hostage.  Fenian forces took up positions just north of Bertie Road where they eventually faced off against a single rifle company of twenty-eight Canadian soldiers.  This single company took the full brunt of eight hundred insurgents and ultimately suffered the most killed and wounded.

Here is a map from that time of the same area I travel today:

My running route follows Ridge Road all the way from the bottom of the picture to the top and onwards…

The area along Ridge Road has not changed much at all.  Many of the same buildings on this map are still in existence today and I run/cycle past them several times every week.  In fact, the Angur House at the corner of Bertie and Ridge (almost directly in the middle of the map) is as prevalent today as it was back then.


Angur “brick house”

In fact, as I have pieced it together, Fenian soldiers were firing from this very tree across from the Angur house on the northeast corner:

Fenian firing positions (corner of Bertie and Ridge Rd)

Fenian firing positions (corner of Bertie and Ridge Rd)

Leaving these bullet hits along the north wall of the house:


How cool is that?

Unfortunately, the original barn burned down around 1944 and has been replaced with a more modern barn structure.  Today, this house and barn are the location of Ridgeway Kennels, owned by a very sweet and eccentric woman named Marion who is only too happy to give you a tour and show you all her lama’s, blind geese, fostered baby ducks, cats, turtles, tortoises, and whatever else she happens to be nursing back to health at the time.  She is very aware of the significance of her home and is obviously very proud of its heritage.  For me, it simply marks the 4k  (or 17k) point for some of my long runs.

Battle of Ridgeway memorial (Garrison Rd.)

Battle of Ridgeway memorial (Garrison Rd.)

The Canadian troops sent to fight them came from a generation who had not seen combat at home for over thirty years and no major invasion of Canadian territory since the War of 1812 — their grandfather’s generation.  Led by inexperienced upper-class amateur officers, the volunteer soldiers were mostly teenage boys and young men, some as young as fifteen years old: farm boys, shopkeepers, apprentices, schoolteachers, store clerks and two rifle companies of University of Toronto students hastily called out from their final exams. Under government cost-saving policies many had not practiced even once firing live rounds from the rifles issued to them.

In other words, we got our assed whooped.  By the Irish no less.

What happened at Ridgeway and afterwards in Fort Erie on June 2, 1866, was covered up by the Macdonald government and a decades-long political controversy. Its history was falsified so thoroughly that most Canadians today have never heard of Canada’s first modern battle or of Canada’s first military casualties.

Lithograph depiction of the battle (1870). Of course, runners look much different now.

So what does this mean to me?  Besides the fact that this very road I plod along is the very same route that soldiers tread on and fought along all those years ago, it was here in Ridgeway that Canadians first fought for the maple leaf before the crown.  It was the birth of a patriotism rooted in a newly rising sense of ‘homeland’ and defined by a new national ideal which Canadians for the first time showed they were prepared to fight and die for.  Ridgeway was where British colonial subjects  began to first find themselves as citizens  of a new emerging unique national community which emphasized its “connection to Britain” as opposed to its former status as an integrated colonial province of Britain.   Confederation made Canada on paper; Ridgeway made it in its people’s hearts.

Why is this significant to triathlon?  It’s not.  Like, at all.  It’s just some cool ass shit to think about instead of how my quads are feeling, how much my feet ache, how shitty my pace may be, how much further I still have to go, or whether I have to poop or not.  It’s knowing about and looking forward to seeing these types of things that inspire me to lace up and get out.  It makes me feel lucky to be healthy and to be living and training where I do.  I mean, I get to get up and run/cycle past historical landmarks such as this each and every day.  Ghosts from the past are never very far away here and, sometimes, I think they can be felt when the going gets tough.

Maybe that’s just being overly hippie, whatever, but strength and the resolve to continue come from the most unexpected sources sometimes.  For me, history and the gorgeous scenery and structures that it is comprised of make the miles pass more easily than not.  What more can I say?

  1. Dirtsmart says:

    wow, never knew this stuff, thanks for the history lesson! I will definately be in the fight next time I am running this road! And yes I HAVE pooped on this run path as per I take the same run route all the time. I actually think I pooped by that tree the soldiers were fighting behind!

  2. Jeff says:

    great post as always Terry….love the history lesson as well…so cool

    quick question: do triathletes practice ‘poop and scoop’? please tell me they do. lol (I’m guessing Not)

    • Ummm, actually I don’t Jeff. On the odd chance I have had to drop a deuce, seeing as this is the country I haven’t bothered to ‘scoop’, figuring the multitude of horses and cows in the area won’t mind. Running in the city is vastly different in that regard. LMAO.

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